April 21, 2006
Fixing CHIP

Let me join Greg in saying that this Chron editorial hits the nail on the head.

WITH almost one-fourth of Texans lacking health insurance, it's hard to see how things could get much worse. But they are, at alarming speed: Rule changes and ill-managed privatization have removed coverage from thousands of children. Since Dec. 1, CHIP - insurance for the working poor - has lost 30,000 children from its rolls. State officials must stop the bleeding, now.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins Tuesday announced a $3 million campaign to help parents access CHIP, a federal and state program for the children of the working poor. They certainly need help. Since private outsourcing behemoth Accenture LLP took over CHIP screening this winter, social service agencies have been swamped with complaints from wrongly disenrolled families. Parents have called 10 and 15 times, been assured by Accenture that their children were insured - then gotten letters cutting those same children off, said Barbara Best of the Children's Defense Fund.

Also disturbing, Health and Human Services spokeswoman Gail Randall said they've heard little of these problems. Said Best, "I have been regularly sending these stories to HHSC so they can be solved. I haven't heard anything." Nonprofits in Fort Worth, Austin and other cities have been sending similar reports.


Even if Accenture had done its job correctly, children would still be falling from CHIP in droves, with no alternative awaiting them. That's because the Texas Legislature wanted it that way. To reduce CHIP's budget, lawmakers voted for asset tests and more paperwork as a way of lowering the number of children eligible to be insured.


The time has come for triage. The Health and Human Services Commission should not allow one more disenrollment until CHIP functions again. After four and a half disastrous months, HHSC must also reconsider its contract with Accenture. An outside investigation of the firm's poor performance must be the first step.

Finally, the governor and Legislature should admit that their choices have put an unacceptable number of Texas children in harm's way - and pointlessly forced taxpayers to pay those children's ER bills. If necessary, and it might not be, legislators should pull money from Texas' budget surplus to cover the same number of children CHIP insured before. Lawmakers must admit that the red tape they created was counterproductive and restore the simpler, more inclusive CHIP guidelines of 2003. Insurance is a good investment for anyone. For low-income kids, the cheap insurance CHIP offers should be non-negotiable.

The only quibble I have is with the "If necessary" in the last paragraph. I think it pretty clearly is necessary, and it's a moral failure to talk about property tax cuts when something like two percent of the current budget surplus would restore CHIP funding to pre-2003 levels and bring home the federal matching funds we've been needlessly turning away as well. I really don't see anything controversial about this.

For those who may be eligible to enroll in CHIP, the CPPP has a useful guideline for wading through the paperwork. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 21, 2006 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack