May 21, 2008

Texas Border Coalition urges Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to support expansion of CHIP health insurance

2007 - Texas Border Coalition urges Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to support expansion of CHIP health insurance




Efforts to make it easier to qualify for, and remain on, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is in the hands of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is being urged by the Texas Border Coalition to support House Bill 109, a measure that could help reverse the increase in the number of uninsured children in Texas.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is a joint author of HB 109, which also in co-authored by the majority of the Texas border legislative delegation in the House.

CHIP is health insurance designed for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private health insurance, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. CHIP enrollment fees and co-payments are based on the family’s income. Enrollment fees are $50 or less per family for each six-month term of eligibility and most co-payments for doctor visits and prescription drugs range from $3 to $10.

The Texas Border Coalition is an alliance of elected leaders and economic development officials representing more than 2.1 million residents who live on the Texas side of the border with Mexico.

El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez, chairman of TBC’s Committee on Border Health, has delivered a letter in behalf of TBC to Dewhurst requesting his support to expand medical coverage for children under the CHIP program.

In his letter, Rodríguez requested Dewhurst to “please lead the Texas Senate in passing comprehensive legislation this session that simplifies the CHIP enrollment process.”

The letter also suggest that, in exchange for the implementation of yearly renewals, a system could be set up to closely monitor those applicants with incomes near the limits imposed by the federal government, reducing the likehood of families with earnings 200 % above the poverty level from remaining enrolled in the program.

Rodríguez added that expanding coverage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”) is a wise decision, because “it saves local tax dollars, helps education and improves our state’s economy.”

TBC contends that only Dewhurst’s strong support can assure that a similar bill filed in the Senate is brought up for a vote before the legislative session comes to an end. In the past weeks, Dewhurst has expressed his opposition to any bill that would allow children to apply every year instead of every 6 months as it is currently required.

However that particular change is considered key to increase the number of children enrolled in the program.

Since September 2003, when the 6 month re-enrollment provision was adopted, the number of children covered under the program declined more than 35 % of the total. The decrease affects particularly border communities such as El Paso, who now have the highest rates of uninsured children among all Texas counties.

Besides negatively impacting children’s health, high rates of uninsured hurts local communities in many ways, Rodríguez said. It costs counties and hospitals millions of dollars in paying for unnecessary emergency room services; it costs the school districts millions in absenteeism, and the state misses the opportunity to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Dewhurst has expressed his willingness to work out a compromise to allow the annual renewals if a system is set in place to ensure that only eligible children are covered.

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