CHIP Under Review

Both the Federal Congress and the Texas legislature are reviewing the Children's Health Insurance Program. Houston was one of four sites in Texas to hold a townhall meeting to highlight the issue for lawmakers. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Texas Children's Hospital hosted a national townhall meeting to lobby for increased funding to the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Rosie Valadez-McStay is the hospital's director of government relations. She says there are currently 1.4 million children without health insurance in Texas, representing 21.6 percent of the entire child population in the state.

"We hear this argument: well we have CHIP, we have Medicaid, these programs don't work because we still have 1.4 million children. The issue is that Texas is a rapidly growing state. People want to come to Texas, there's opportunity in Texas and so families begin to grow here in Texas. And what we need to do is make sure that there are policies in place that really help those families that want to make a life and be successful in Texas, that they have those fundamental building blocks for their family. And for me, that is health care."

In September of 2003, several changes to CHIP went into effect. Families were required to reapply for coverage every six months. The state also decided to count child support payments and day care costs as part of a family's total income, so many families became ineligible because their total income exceeded 200 percent of the poverty level. Several bills have already been filed, which could require Texas lawmakers to reconsider those changes.

"Besides extending the eligibility time from six months to 12 months, we're also going to ask that they would reconsider having families count childcare subsidies and I would say child support checks as income. To us that's antithetical to what was really going on, and that is keeping children healthy means that you do need child support, keeping children healthy means you need childcare so you can go work and be able to pay that insurance premium, be it CHIP coverage or private coverage."

Patricia Gray is the director of research and external affairs at the University of Houston Health Law Institute. She also served as a state representative and sponsored the original CHIP legislation in 1999. She says she thinks the changes which took place in 2003 resulted in unintended consequences and she believes the current legislature is supportive of amending those changes.

"It is possible for people to have very disparate views about how to address this problem and find common ground and come up with a program that works, works well for the people it's intended to and is successful for those people. I think members are ready for that to happen again."

While Texas lawmakers take up the issue of CHIP, the U.S. Congress will also hammer out details as they work to reauthorize the federal version of the program. There are an estimated 9 million uninsured children in the nation. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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