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Perry Has Health Care Sticker Shock

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Gov. Rick Perry believes that national health care reform will cost Texas taxpayers too much money.

It’s worth noting that Texas taxpayers are already footing a hefty bill, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, here’s what Perry had to say. The governor wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus yesterday afternoon outlining his concerns about the senator’s latest proposal for national health care reform. You can see a pdf of Perry’s letter here.

Whichever reform plan passes, it will likely include a huge expansion of Medicaid. That worries Perry. As you know, Texas has more people without health insurance than any state in the country. We also have one of the nation’s most miserly Medicaid programs. (Those two facts are related, of course.) So if health care reform funnels millions of uninsured Texans into Medicaid, it’s likely to cost the state a bundle.

In his letter, Perry estimates the Baucus plan would cost Texas $60 billion over 10 years. Adding $6 billion a year to the state budget isn’t impossible, but there’s no denying that’s a large hike in state spending.

Perry writes:

Instead of government mandates and more deficit spending, successful health care reforms can be achieved only by providing states the flexibility to develop state-specific solutions….I urge you to support our right, as a state, to further explore these approaches, rather than forcing us to implement federal mandates that promise financial hardships for the states and little in the way of benefits for our economy and all of our constituents.”

Perry makes a convincing case. I mean, “$60 billion in new spending” is the kind of phrase that will send some folks running for the hills, or stuffing their cash under a mattress.

But Perry is providing only part of the story.

Texas’ huge uninsured population already costs taxpayers a lot of money. When the uninsured show up at the emergency rooms in county hospitals, they’re draining local tax dollars. (By some estimates, the uninsured use several billion each year in uncompensated care.)

For more details on how the costs of caring for the uninsured and indigent fall on Texas counties, click here. (CPPP also has this report about how Texas would benefit from health care reform.)

If a reform plan passes that provides coverage to millions of uninsured Texans, it would save local governments a tremendous amount of money.

So what we’re really talking about here isn’t new spending. It’s mostly a cost shift: County governments will save money; the state government will spend more.

But it’s all taxpayer money. To you and me, it makes no difference whether we pay for health care with the tax dollars that go to the state or the dollars that go to county government.

The difference is, if most Texans are insured, they’ll receive better and more frequent care. The research on that is clear: People who have health insurance lead healthier lives.

Our current system already puts a huge strain on Texas taxpayers. The question is, do we want that money to provide our fellow citizens healthier lives?

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.