April 29, 2009
CHIP and Medicaid advance

Good news for CHIP and Medicaid.

The House Committee on Human Services approved a measure that would expand eligibility for the Children's Health Insurance Program, a move the bill's author, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said would add 80,000 children to the program.

The bill would allow certain families earning more than the current income limit -- about $44,000 for a family of four -- to pay to join the program.

The Senate Finance Committee passed a measure by Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, that would also allow families above the income limit to pay to join CHIP, though it differs from Coleman's bill.

The House panel also passed a measure by state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, that would allow families to stay in children's Medicaid for a full year rather than having to reapply every six months.

The first bill is HB2962, the Averitt bill appears to be SB841, and I can't tell what the Turner bill is. Here's a statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman's about what happened:

State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D-Houston), who helped create the original Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), applauds Chairman Patrick Rose and the members of the House Committee on Health and Human Services for voting out CSHB 2962, which is a positive step in restoring CHIP coverage to its intended levels. Rep. Coleman also applauds the efforts of the members of the House Appropriations Committee for providing the funding to make this possible.

This bill is a collaborative product of the efforts of several members of the legislature, as well as other Texans concerned with the high number of uninsured children in the state," said Rep. Coleman. "It is estimated that this legislation will help insure 80,000 of Texas' neediest children."

CSHB 2962 expands CHIP eligibility to include children from families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The bill includes a buy in option, at no cost to the state, for children from families with a net income up to 400 percent above the federal poverty level, who were previously enrolled in CHIP but lose coverage due to an increase in income.

Currently, children from families at 150% above the federal poverty level enrolled in CHIP are required to verify that their allowable assets do not exceed $10,000. CSHB 2962 raises the check for allowable assets to families earning 250% of the federal poverty level, and raised allowable assets to $20,000. Additionally, it exempts the value of one car from being included in determining families' assets for CHIP.

"A vehicle is a lifeline for families, and should not be considered an asset when determining health coverage," said Rep. Coleman. "Families need to drive to get to work, to get food, and to take their children to school."

CSHB 2962 also excludes child support payments and assets in college savings plans from being considered when determining eligibility for programs like CHIP and Medicaid.

"These changes will encourage families to invest in the future of their children's education, without fear that their investment will cause them to lose their health care," said Rep. Coleman.

This is an extension of HB109 from the 2007 Lege, which restored the one-year enrollment period but did not relax the assets restrictions. I believe this would still leave us short of the levels we had before the 2003 decimation, but it's a big step forward and we'd be closer than ever if this passes. Let's hope it keeps the momentum going forward.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 29, 2009 to Budget ballyhoo
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