February 28, 2007
Davis supports easing CHIP requirements

Well, well, well...look who favors making CHIP more accessible now.

"I think it's the right thing to do," said Rep. John Davis of Houston, who on Tuesday filed legislation to lengthen the CHIP enrollment period from six months to one year and ease other restrictions imposed by Republican leaders in 2003 to help bridge a $10 billion revenue shortfall without raising state taxes.

Restoring CHIP coverage will be a "good investment" in a healthier Texas, said Davis, the House Human Services Committee's budget and oversight chairman. The state leads the country in the number of residents without health coverage.

The changes imposed in 2003 -- including the shortened, six-month enrollment period and an assets test that disqualified some families from CHIP coverage if they owned a second, used auto -- have been blamed for CHIP enrollment dropping from more than 500,000 in 2003 to about 290,000 in April 2006.

Also sharing the blame were errors by a private company, Accenture, hired to help process applications.

Rep. Davis was of course one of the main enablers of the onerous restrictions that he now wants to fix. I don't know what brought about this particular road-to-Damascus moment - I personally would not discount the salutary effect of his having had a vigorous challenger last election - but it is as welcome as it is overdue.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who co-sponsored the law creating the Texas CHIP program in 1999 and fought the cutbacks in 2003, welcomed Davis' bill and said he will ask to be a co-sponsor. He already is sponsoring separate legislation to restore the CHIP cuts.

"This was bad public policy to begin with. I can't understand why it took John or anyone else four years to understand that," he said.

Coleman said he suspected the motivation was political since several Republicans who supported the CHIP restrictions, including former Republican Reps. Talmadge Heflin and Martha Wong of Houston, have since lost races for re-election or higher office.

"This wasn't done out of the goodness of someone's heart. This was forced. The public has spoken. The public wants change," he said.

I refer you once again to Rep. Coleman's work on CHIP. While I agree that the public has spoken on this matter, it's apparent that not everyone is listening:

But Gov. Rick Perry opposes at least one of the key changes, the longer enrollment period, spokeswoman Krista Moody said.

She said Perry favors the current, six-month enrollment period and continuation of the assets test for eligibility. It wasn't clear whether the governor would support the less-onerous test proposed by Davis.

"The governor wants to ensure that those receiving government aid for health care are, in fact, eligible to receive those benefits," Moody said.

I hate to say this, but I can totally see a bill getting passed with bipartisan support, and then getting vetoed by Governor Thirty-Nine Percent. I don't have to re-enroll in my health insurance program every six months, and I'll bet neither does Rick Perry. Why should folks who need CHIP be treated any differently? How many people are likely to get an extra few months of coverage that they might not have gotten under the current rule? Not many, I'd bet - certainly far less than the people who have lost coverage in the past few years. The Governor's attitude is not only uncompassionate, it's not even fiscally sound. And of course, there are real world consequences:

Terri Cannon, whose husband is a doctoral student in physics at Rice University, spent months trying to renew her two sons' health insurance coverage last year.

Her youngest was just turning 1 and was transferring from Medicaid to CHIP. Her oldest, then 3, had been on CHIP since January 2005.

Both qualified but went uninsured for four months while Cannon's efforts to renew their coverage met with one bureaucratic snag after another.

The loss of coverage was especially troublesome for her oldest son, a severe asthmatic who needed costly medicine to prevent his attacks.

"They needed to realize that they were not just dealing with paperwork," Cannon said.

"They were dealing with my 3-year-old who couldn't breathe, and I couldn't get past that."

In a sense, Terri Cannon was lucky. For some people, the fallout from lacking insurance can be fatal.

UPDATE: Dewhurst is with Perry. Gotta keep those GOP primary voters happy, you know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 28, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo