October 13, 2007
Coleman to Abbott: File suit over CHIP

State Rep. Garnet Coleman sends a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott:

I am writing you today to ask you to file or join a lawsuit against the United States Department of Health and Human Services to block a recent Center for Medicaid and State Operations directive that will result in thousands of children losing their health insurance nationwide and handcuff Texas from continuing to reduce the number of uninsured children in our state.

On August 17, the Bush administration issued a directive from the Center for Medicaid and State Operations effectively prohibiting states from covering children in their respective State Children's Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP) at or above 250% of the federal poverty level. I believe the directive violates federal law, which requires a published notice in the Federal Register and an opportunity for public comment on new administrative rules. The Attorneys General of New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland and Washington have filed or joined lawsuits to block enforcement of the directive; according to media reports, the Attorneys General of Arizona, California, New Hampshire and New Mexico have announced they will do the same.

Texas made progress this past legislative session partially restoring cuts made to Texas' CHIP program in 2003, but the Legislature still has a long way to go to fully restoring CHIP and providing access to health coverage for the 1.3 million children in our state who currently do not have health insurance. In addition to violating federal law, the directive from the Bush administration will ultimately handcuff legislators from reducing the number of uninsured children in Texas.

Some background on that lawsuit is here. Note the irony present in this story about how Texas is not at risk just yet of having to throw kids off of CHIP:

State officials said Thursday that the state has sufficient funding from existing federal grants to continue the program for at least a year.

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, said there is enough money to cover an expected enrollment increase of 135,000 children. The boost in enrollment was authorized by the Legislature this year in a bill designed to reverse cuts made in 2003 when the state faced a budget crisis.

Goodman said eligibility workers are reassuring families that they won't lose CHIP. The situation is different in some other states that have spent all of their federal funds.

The federal government provides more than $2 in matching funds for every dollar the state spends on CHIP, which is designed for children of families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. Texas covers children living in families who earn up to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, or $41,300 for a family of four.

About 327,000 Texas children are enrolled now, down from 529,000 in 2002.

Advocates for low-income families said a congressional deadlock could hurt future efforts to cover more uninsured children in Texas by expanding income limits. Such changes would have to be made by the Legislature.

Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said if Texas wants to reach the more than 300,000 children eligible for the program but not enrolled and continue covering pregnant women, it will need to rely on more federal funds in coming years. She said the bill that President Bush vetoed last week would have provided those funds.

We have those extra federal funds now because we kicked thousands of kids off of CHIP in 2003 in our badly misguided attempt to balance the budget. So unlike all those states that were foolish enough to spend the money they were granted to provide health insurance to the maximum number of children and who now face shortfalls thanks to President Bush's veto, we got way ahead of the curve and slashed enrollment years ago, thus giving us enough of a cushion to bring some of the kids back into the fold now that we loosened our own purse strings a bit. How prescient we were.

Elsewhere in CHIP news, Coleman and a group of his House colleagues held a press conference to urge an override of the Bush veto, Bill Kelly wrote about the politics of CHIP in football terms, and CD10 candidate Dan Grant continued his assault on Rep. Mike McCaul for his unwavering refusal to support CHIP. Click on for Grant's press release.

Democratic challenger Dan Grant today asked his opponent, incumbent GOP Congressman Mike McCaul, to explain why he voted against a bi-partisan bill to extend the successful State Children's Health Insurance Program to more than 1.4 million uninsured Texas children and to tell the working parents of those children whether he plans to vote for the measure when it comes up again next week.

The bill, which passed the House with a strong majority despite McCaul's "no" vote, was subsequently vetoed by President George W. Bush. The House is expected to debate a possible override of the presidential veto beginning October 18.

"Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation," Grant said. "Mr. McCaul's vote against this bipartisan legislation -- and the President's veto of it when it passed anyway -- harmed millions of working parents of uninsured children."

Grant said private health insurance costs Texas families an average of $11,000 per year.

"There's no mystery about what is causing the health care crisis -- ordinary working people don't earn enough to pay for skyrocketing insurance premiums and prescription drugs," Grant said.

Grant has proposed reforms to guarantee affordable health care by requiring open disclosure of all health-related prices and a single national risk pool to leverage down insurance costs.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 13, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo