By Karen Brooks
AUSTIN (Reuters) - Governor Rick Perry signed into law on Monday a Republican-backed measure that would eventually allow Texas to enter into a "health care compact" with other states to seek flexibility in operating Medicaid and Medicare.
Perry, who is considering a run for president, said taking that step is "a significant way for us to minimize the effects of the coming catastrophe that will accompany the full implementation of Obamacare if that is not stopped first," Perry said.
Oklahoma and Georgia have passed a similar measure, aiming to turn Medicaid and Medicare dollars into block grants.
The compacts idea is a challenge to the Obama-backed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which Republicans say is too costly for states.
The compact proposal is one portion of the Texas omnibus healthcare bill ceremoniously signed into law on Monday.
Legislation that passes both the House and the Senate in Texas does not have to be signed by the governor to become law, but Perry lends his name to major issues as a way to drum up publicity for the accomplishments of the legislature.
The comprehensive bill seeks to save Medicaid dollars by expanding managed care, requiring co-payments for non-emergency visits to emergency rooms and reducing payments to providers in cases of preventable medical errors.
The Legislative Budget Board estimates that the measure could save nearly $468 million over two years.
"It ensures that we live up to our responsibility to those who depend on state services and to those who support these programs with their hard earned tax dollars," said Republican state senator Jane Nelson.
The bill also stipulates that no tax money can go to pay for abortions, a ban which is already in current state law.
Perry has long been a critic of the federal government, a theme that has seen more of the spotlight since he indicated he could jump into the Republican presidential primaries.
On Monday, surrounded by local and national reporters, Perry was asked about comments he made to the Des Moines Register on Sunday that he felt as though he were being "called" to run. He declined to repeat the comments, quipping that the term "called" could be applied to anything - including his mother calling him for dinner.
Perry also distanced himself from publicity surrounding the American Family Association, who are the sponsors of a prayer rally he's promoting in Houston on August 6.
The group has been called a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-gay stances, and some other religious groups or personalities who have signed on to join the rally have been criticized what some are calling extreme views, including that Oprah Winfrey will host the coming of the anti-Christ.
Perry said he won't fault anyone for supporting him, and that he won't tell anyone what to say - or what not to say - at the prayer rally. But he stopped short of supporting their comments.
"I'm sure that in elections in the past there have been some groups that have endorsed me publicly and that I appreciated their endorsement, but their endorsement of me doesn't mean I endorse what they believe in or what they say," he said.
(Additional reporting by Corrie MacLaggan. Editing by Peter Bohan)