May 25, 2007
The CHIP endgame

Capitol Letters says the recently-passed CHIP bill HB109 is still being monkeyed with by the Senate and David Dewhurst.

After collecting kudos Tuesday from the Texas Network of IAF Organizations (Dallas Area Interfaith, Valley Interfaith and so on), Mr. Dewhurst named Senate negotiators who are expected to strongly defend his pet idea of electronic eligibility verification.

Senate conferees include the only two senators who voted against the House's partial CHIP restoration bill: Republicans Steve Ogden, who voted "nay" in committee, and Jane Nelson, who opposed the bill on the floor. The team's leader is Waco Republican Kip Averitt, who favors a bigger CHIP but is unlikely to betray Mr. Dewhurst, even though the lieutenant governor dumped him as a budget negotiator this session to appease the right wing of the Senate's GOP caucus.

Most CHIP advocates, physician groups and hospitals who love the House-passed version believe Mr. Dewhurst has made income verification almost a fetish -- and is going to give us another Accenture-like fiasco, albeit much smaller in scope than the call centers that do eligibility screening for the major social programs.

If the Dewhurst plan passes, state social services czar Albert Hawkins will get a strong nudge to hire a private firm that does data mining to check on some families' incomes every six months -- even though parents would submit paperwork annually. Mr. Dewhurst says he's heard of three or four such vendors, though CHIP advocates are skeptical the techniques are proven -- and the expenditures would be worth it.

Clearly, the lesson we learned with Accenture wasn't expensive enough to leave a lasting impression.

Prediction: Mr. Turner could blow up the bill but won't. He's a Craddick D, which means he knows a thing or two about incremental gains. Mr. Dewhurst gets his way.

Oh, yes, conferees probably will narrow the range of families who undergo the electronic checking. Under the Senate version, families would be scrutinized every six months if their incomes exceed 150 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that is $30,975 a year. But Mr. Dewhurst probably signaled his true intentions on May 10, when he told reporters he was looking at three possible thresholds - 165, 170 or 175 percent of the poverty level. The next week, he reduced that to 150 percent, and all but admitted he was leaving Senate negotiators room to compromise. So "compromise" they will.

Watch for it. The CPPP has more on where things now stand.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 25, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo