March 09, 2007
Looks like half a loaf for CHIP

Previously, we heard the following from Rep. Sylvester Turner:

Rep. Sylvester Turner told reporters this morning that the House Appropriations Committee will add money to the budget later today to fully restore cuts to the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Today, we see that it's not a fully full restoration.

The Human Services Committee voted 8-1 to allow children to be covered for a year at a time, rather than re-qualifying every six months; eliminate a 90-day waiting period for uninsured children; and make it easier to meet income requirements.

"The compromise that we have struck is fiscally sound and is in the best interest of our kids," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. He said the revamp of House Bill 109 was crafted with Rep. John Davis, R-Houston, and Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, Human Services chairman.

Davis earlier had offered his own proposal to ease lingering CHIP cutbacks made during a $10 billion revenue shortfall in 2003. The revamp reflects elements of his bill, including retaining, but easing, the assets test rather than eliminating it. The new test would allow families to own cars with more value and have more cash.

Specifics of the new asset test are here. Is it good enough?

Criticism of the bill also came from the Democratic side, with Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, saying the assets test should be eliminated and that lawmakers should address red tape that has cost eligible children coverage.

"This bill looks good on the surface, but in operation, it still denies our children access to health coverage," Coleman said. "This is not a policy compromise, it's political cover."


Barbara Best, Texas executive director of Children's Defense Fund, said she would like to see the assets test eliminated, but she's pleased overall.

"All in all, this is a very good bill that will cover more children," she said. "We're pleased with the bipartisan support in the House, and now we need to work on the Senate."

I find myself leaning towards Ms. Best's position. If we get everything that's currently in this bill signed into law, it's a big step in the right direction. There will still be room for improvement, but I can accept what we've got now.

The problem, of course, is that what we've got now is likely not what we'll ultimately get.

The lone "no" vote on the committee came from Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, who said he cares about children but thinks it's bad policy to go to a 12-month enrollment period.

The same point has been cited by two Senate leaders, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Finance Committee chairman. Gov. Rick Perry also supports six-month eligibility, although his spokeswoman said he would look at the bill if it arrives at his desk.

Ogden reiterated his concern Thursday about Texas looking at expanding CHIP when it isn't legally required to do so, while it faces big costs for services it must provide, including Medicaid. He said that "is not a prudent way to budget."

Turner said, "With all due respect to the senator, he proposes to have needy populations fighting against one another" for program funding. He noted that providing preventive health care saves money in the long run.

Sucking six billion dollars out of general revenue to pay for an irresponsible property tax cut because the business tax designed to fund it is and will be woefully short doesn't strike me as a particularly prudent way to budget, either. For some odd reason, it's always the needy folks who get the short end of the stick in these situations.

Basically, the Turner bill as is passes muster. The Turner bill with the six month requirement reinstated does not. It's nice that Rep. Turner has a chit to cash with Speaker Craddick to get his bill through the House. Does he have enough juice to stare down Ogden and Dewhurst? That's what will matter.

Though I will say, I like Turner's suggestion here:

If state lawmakers aren't willing to pass such legislation, Turner said there should be a moratorium on campaign ads featuring children.

"If this is a policy we're going to take, stop runnning campaign ads about our children. Stop doing the campaign ads if, when we get to Austin, we act as if they do not exist. If it's good enough for us to run on, it's good enough for us to fund," he said.

That's even less likely to happen than the promised full restoration of CHIP, but I like the idea anyway.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 09, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo