Saturday, June 13, 2009

80,000 Missed Opportunities

Texas has missed the opportunity to offer health care coverage to 80,000 of the state’s uninsured children. Even though health insurance for children was a priority in this year’s session, the Legislature failed to act on a proposal to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Twenty-two percent of Texas children lack health insurance, amounting to a total 1.5 million uninsured youth. At the national level 12 percent of children are uninsured, making Texas the state with the largest number of uninsured children in the country.

The fact that one out of every five children in Texas doesn’t have health insurance raises the question: What kept our state lawmakers from intervening and ensuring the passage of the CHIP expansion bill?

CHIP provides health coverage for children whose working families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but still can’t afford private health insurance plans. Eligible parents have a maximum yearly income of $44,100 for a family of four. The CHIP expansion bill would have extended eligibility to families of four that earned up to $66,150 and paid a monthly premium for the coverage. The expansion plan would have worked in favor of Texas Hispanic children, who are 3.5 times more likely to live in poverty and 2.5 times more likely to be uninsured than their Anglo counterparts.

Money was not the problem in the CHIP decision. Federal matching funds were available through the CHIP reauthorization law signed in January. Additionally, the state could lower the cost of emergency rooms and loss of workforce productivity by keeping children healthy.

Since parents of uninsured children can’t meet the expense of preventive treatment, they tend to wait until their children’s health reaches critical condition to get them medical attention. Parents must then resort to expensive hospitals and emergency care funded by taxpayers.

CHIP, on the other hand, returns money to taxpayers’ pockets. The federal government matches every dollar that Texas invests in CHIP with approximately $2.65 in federal funds. By failing to invest in CHIP and add more children to the program, our state is losing out on a federal contribution of millions of dollars that could relieve some of the state’s current financial burden.

Our lawmakers have denied CHIP expansion to higher income children this year, but more than half of Texas uninsured children are still qualified for enrolment in CHIP and Medicaid under current eligibility rules. The state now needs to reach out to these eligible families and increase enrolment in the program.

It is time for Texas legislators to tune out their political battles and put the children first. Texas leaders must attend to the health insurance demands of our youth to ensure they grow into healthy adults and build a prosperous future for our state.

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