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The Associated Press June 16, 2011, 10:18AM ET

Texas gives preliminary OK to health care compact

Texas lawmakers voted Wednesday to allow the state to join a proposed interstate compact that would let members decide for themselves how to structure and disburse federal health care benefits within their states.

The Texas House tentatively approved legislation in favor of a multistate agreement that, if it were approved by Congress, would give states power to adopt their own health care rules rather than federal regulations. The bill now goes to the Senate for approval.

Oklahoma and Georgia already have passed legislation creating the compact, although Congress hasn't given any indication it would accept such a proposal. States would receive federal health care funding as a block grant and decide how to structure Medicaid and Medicaid programs under the Texas bill introduced by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

Kolkhorst said the legislation aims to give states more flexibility to adjust spending, but Democrats argued the bill would reduce Medicare funds to senior citizens.

Kolkhorst said her bill wasn't intended to put seniors' access to Medicare at risk, but the House did approve an amendment that explicitly prohibits the compact from negatively impacting Medicare entitlements

"If we're going to join a compact, let's not be the tail on this dog," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who authored the amendment. "When it comes to making policy and running the risk of other states leading Texas, that raises a red flag."

Others remained adamantly opposed to joining the compact, with or without the amendment.

"This bill is designed as an offense to get rid of the guarantee of health coverage," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. "The principle is not to improve health care. It is to unwind the government health care system."

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