Arlene Wohlgemuth has a problem. She authored HB2292 last year, which was the bill designed to reduce the number of CHIP recipients, in part by making them pay more for the insurance. This new law has been roundly denounced as harmful to children, especially poor children, and Wohlgemuth has been paying the price for it in her quest to unseat Rep. Chet Edwards in CD17. (Edwards has been racking up the endorsements, too, in no small part because of Wohlgemuth's hostility to families.)
Arlene Wohgemuth also has friends in high places. They're doing their best to help her with this by not enforcing the law she wrote.
Senate budget writers demanded to know Monday on what authority state health officials suspended collection of monthly premiums in the Children's Health Insurance Program.
The monthly premiums, required by House Bill 2292, were ordered temporarily suspended by Gov. Rick Perry after consulting with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick, said Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins.
The law's author, Republican Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson, also recommended last August that Hawkins temporarily suspend the premium requirement, which ranges from $15 to $25 a month based on income.
Prior to September 2003, there was only a small annual fee.
Wohlgemuth is running for U.S. Congress in District 17 against Democrat Chet Edwards of Waco, who has made an issue of Texas children falling out of the CHIP program.
Legislative changes affecting eligibility in HB 2292 have resulted in 159,000 children losing CHIP coverage. Wohlgemuth was unavailable for comment Monday, but Republican budget writers expressed annoyance.
"This issue troubles me. Do the means justify the ends? If we pass a statute, is everyone, say, free to ignore it if it's uncomfortable?" asked Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, complained that as the Senate sponsor of HB 2292, she was not consulted on the matter.
"I am extremely frustrated with this situation," said Nelson, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. "I would not have tried to pass a bill out of the Senate that I didn't think had a fair and equitable cost-sharing plan in it."
Nelson also asked whether Hawkins considered it fair to those CHIP families that did pay the premiums.
"It is not fair," Hawkins agreed. "We do have to find a way to ensure equity."