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Harris County prepares to get hammered

The House budget will cost Harris County a bundle if it passes as is.

Harris County health care providers would lose more than $2 billion in Medicaid funding under the Texas House budget that passed Sunday night, according to an Austin think tank.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities’ county-by-county analysis found the hit, by far the most in the state, would reduce overall Medicaid funding for Harris County hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and other providers by 38 percent from the amount spent on such care in 2009.

“That would certainly be a body blow for the county, one I’d expect it to try to make up through tax and fees,” said Vivian Ho, a Rice University health care economist. “As private practice doctors get out of Medicaid, I’d also worry about the spillover effect at hospitals, like Texas Children’s, that provide care to low-income and privately insured patients.”

Houston health care providers said it was too early to know how they’d respond if such a cut were signed into law. But they were unanimous in saying it would have a huge negative impact.

You can see the CPPP’s reports here. Nobody doubts that there will be an effect, and given the scope of the cuts at the state level, that it will be a large effect, right? And nobody doubts that the people who will be directly affected by this won’t just go away but will find some other way to get medical attention, right? That means more people showing up at emergency rooms. You can do the math from there.

Members of the Harris County Commissioners Court in 2009 said they were committed not to raise property taxes, but the district is coping with reduced tax revenues because of a decline in county property values in addition to coming legislative cuts.

Noting the court is still six months away from setting tax rates, a spokesman for County Judge Ed Emmett said Friday that nothing is on or off the table for the hospital district tax rate.

Yes, it’s still early in the process, the Senate is likely to make changes, and you shouldn’t read too much into such an equivocal statement. But if Harris County winds up raising taxes as a result of this, please be sure to put the blame for it where it belongs, on the Republicans in the Lege who voted for HB1.

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