Texas Lawmakers Weigh in on the State Children's Health Insurance Program

Congress has scheduled a vote for next week on the State Children's Health Insurance Program vetoed by the President. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports two of Houston's delegation are weighing in on the topic.

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The State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP, is a program to help low-income families pay for health insurance who do not qualify for medicaid. Texas has a large number of children without health insurance and many push to get those families signed up in CHIP. Even though CHIP is a state-run program, matching funds come from the federal government. The funding bill was vetoed by President George Bush. U.S. Senator John Cornyn supports that veto saying the program has grown beyond recognition and is no longer targeting low-income children.

"But you would probably be suprised, maybe not, to know that in 14 states, adults are covered under a children's health insurance program. You may also be suprised to know that in many states, including New York, they have the authorization to cover children using tax-payer dollars, and even adults, up to 400% of the poverty level. For a family of four, that's the equivalent of making $82,000 a year."

Cornyn says the CHIP program will survive, but he says there needs to be a larger discussion.

"What we need is an honest debate about health care reform in this country. And it can't be used, it shouldn't be used merely as a political football to try to embarass people by suggesting that they hate children or they don't care about poor kids getting access to health care. What we need to be all about is trying to figure ways we can reform our current broken health care system."

At the same time, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee was in Houston calling attention to the over-ride vote and raising support. Jackson-Lee says SCHIP is not expanding to cover.

"The reason why the income scale is different is because we address it on the basis of the cost of living in your state. So if you happen to be in New Jersey, and you happen to be making a certain amount of money, it may sound high, but you are eligable for SCHIP because of the cost of living in New Jersey and the amount of-the lack of expendable cash you can have. It's different in Texas. And so, that's all about respecting different states."

As to adults in SCHIP, Jackson-Lee says those are kids who have grown-up and transitioned to adult coverage because of their medical conditions. The state legislature made some changes to the program this past legislative session that increased enrollment. Children's Defense Fund's Barbara Best was involved in that effort.

"All of that progress in the Texas legislature is at risk if we cannot get the Children's Health Insurance Program re-authorized at the federal level. The bill that was sent to the President was a bi-partisan compromise that would've covered 3 million of the 9 million children in America who are uninsured.

Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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