Candidates for the board of Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital expressed support, with a few caveats, for Texas expanding Medicaid, a move that’s left bitter taste in the mouth of lawmakers in Austin.
“There are a lot of people out there who are we leaving behind who cannot afford health care,” said Dr. Ahammed Hashim.
Hashim, a pulmonologist, is running for an at-large seat on the board against incumbent Farrar Bentley.
“Medicaid expansion isn’t all of the answer, but I think we need to take a proactive view,” Bentley said.
Both Bentley and Precinct 1 incumbent Patrick Kuhns pointed to how hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid programs as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act are thriving compared to those in state’s the rejected the proposals.
“If you believe in this hospital and it’s mission, you should approach the state legislature to expand Medicaid. The legislature doesn’t have the appetite for it, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” Kuhns said.
Kuhns is facing challenger Fred Groover who did not attend Thursday’s candidate forum at the hospital.
Individual states had to agree to expand their Medicaid program, and the federal government offered to pay for 100 percent of states’ Medicaid expansion from 2014 to 2016 — aid that decreased to 90 percent by 2020.
But a number of states, including Texas, fought the Obama administration’s mandate to expand Medicaid, and in 2012 the Supreme Court ruled states were not required to comply with the mandate.
“I think we’ve reached the point now where we’ve seen states that did take Medicaid expansion have seen an increase in funds,” Bentley said.
That left about 638,000 non-elderly Texans in the Medicaid gap as of 2016 — the most among the states that didn’t expand Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Incumbent Precinct 4 trustee Anita Kite, who is running unopposed, expressed reservations.
“I do know with almost any government program there’s all kinds of fraud,” she said. “As long as they would keep that at bay, I think it would probably do us some good.”
How much financial good would remain to be seen.
“Theoretically, they should come in less because they are more healthy,” said Hashim, who accepts Medicaid at his private practice.
The forum was the second and last scheduled before the Nov. 5 election. Candidates also participated in a discussion last month sponsored by the Nacogdoches Area Physicians’ Association.
Early voting begins Oct. 21 and wraps up Nov. 1. In addition to the hospital board seats, voters will decide on 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.