With all the craziness in the House yesterday, the news that a CHIP deal was reached by Senate and House conferees got overlooked. Which is too bad, because it looks like it's a pretty good deal.
Under the agreed-to plan, which still needs a final OK from the full House and Senate, the CHIP families with the highest incomes would have their eligibility checked after six months in the program. A family of four can earn up to $41,000 and still be eligible for CHIP.
The families of about 9 percent of CHIP children -- some 29,000 children -- would be affected. That's a change from the 40 percent of families the Senate plan proposed to check. The House plan didn't have the electronic checks.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has said that the electronic verifications would ensure that only eligible children are enrolled. Opponents to the checks, such as Turner, argued that it would be red tape for families.
The compromise plan would add 127,556 children to the program by easing enrollment restrictions put in place in 2003. It would eliminate a 90-day waiting period for uninsured children to enroll and it would allow families to stay in the program for a full year instead of having to re-apply every six months.
Sen. Kip Averitt said House and Senate negotiators have signed off on the deal and plan to seek each chamber's approval on Sunday.
"I think it's an excellent opportunity for the state to enroll a significant number of new children into the program," said Averitt, R-Waco, who led the Senate's negotiating team.
The compromise plan increases the income level where checks begin so that fewer families go through the process. State officials estimate that at least 27,000 more children would be covered under the compromise plan than in the Senate's version.
House and Senate budget writers have already approved almost $90 million for CHIP, though neither chamber has adopted the spending plan yet.
One advocacy group hailed the compromise as an "important victory for Texas children."
"Texas will be able to reduce its number of uninsured children, children will receive care in doctors offices instead of emergency rooms, and Texas will be able to maximize federal matching funds instead of sending our tax dollars to other states," said Barbara Best, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund of Texas.