In a private meeting with Houston-area state lawmakers last week, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott brought up a topic so radioactive in Texas politics that even the mention of it caught the room off guard, according to three of those present. The longtime attorney general, who made a name for himself by suing President Barack Obama and his administration, asked for more information about a compromise recently struck by the Republican governor of Utah and the federal government that could pave the way for that heavily conservative state to expand Medicaid through the president's signature health care law.
Arguably no state would benefit more from the Affordable Care Act than Texas. The state has a massive population of uninsured residents and a state hospital system that would be in a far stronger position if the Lone Star State accepted Medicaid expansion.
But for purely partisan and ideological reasons, Texas' Republican-led state government has drawn a line in the sand: no "Obamacare." Even if Texas is ripping itself off, on purpose, state officials have said they do not care.
At least, that is, what they've been saying in recent years. The Houston Chronicle's Brian Rosenthal published an interesting report on Christmas Eve, however, that raised a few eyebrows.
Carol Alvarado, a Democratic state representative from Houston, attended the meeting and told the Chronicle how "encouraging" this was. "It was like, if he's bringing this up, he's not shutting the door on it," she said. "I think he's open to looking at it."
Obviously, it's best not to jump to too many conclusions based on one comment, but if Abbott is sincere about wanting more information about developments in Utah, he's opening the door to a significant breakthrough.
And why not? Already, 27 states nationwide have embraced Medicaid expansion, and recently, Utah, Wyoming, and Tennessee -- three reliably "red" states -- started moving forward on this as well. It's not that surprising; states can only deliberately hurt themselves for so long before they wonder if there's a smarter way forward.
Texas is the nation's largest state to block ACA implementation as much as it can -- no exchange, no Medicaid expansion, etc. -- and if Abbott budges, even a little, it would increase the pressure considerably on other ruby-red states.