The Texas Senate on Tuesday agreed to loosen some enrollment restrictions for children in the state's low-cost insurance program for working poor families, allowing their families to renew their coverage once a year instead of twice.
The proposal would reverse several changes the Legislature implemented to the Children's Health Insurance Program in 2003, when the state faced a $10 billion budget shortfall.
The bill would require electronic income checks every six months for families at the top of the income eligibility scale. State officials would only contact families whose income appears to have risen beyond the program's limits, Sen. Kip Averitt said.
"Most of the families will never even know that it ever happened," said Averitt, R-Waco.
Rep. Sylvester Turner, the bill's House sponsor, said he wouldn't accept the Senate's changes because that version would only add 100,000 children to the CHIP rolls. The House version would add about 30,000 more kids, he said.
"I think we can do better and I think the kids deserve better and I'm going to, along with the House conferees, fight for better," said Turner, D-Houston, referring to the committee of lawmakers from both chambers that will work out the differences between the bills.
House and Senate budget writers approved almost $90 million for CHIP last week. That's enough to cover the changes made by the House.
The bill was a disappointment for advocacy groups that favor the House's version.
Barbara Best, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund of Texas, said she fears the state will have as many problems with this computer system as it has had with other social services programs.
"After the disastrous performance of the private contractor Accenture, this is not the time to institute a complicated new eligibility check that relies on untested technology," Best said in a statement.
Anyway, I presume Rep. Turner will be on the conference committee. We'll see if he can get his version of the bill across the goal line.Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 23, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo