Senate action would expand CHIP againLegislature: Bill returns to House, which is expected to reject amendments
08:31 AM CDT on Wednesday, May 23, 2007
AUSTIN – About 100,000 more youngsters in working-poor households would receive health coverage under a bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill would partially undo cuts to the Children's Health Insurance Program, which has seen its enrollment plunge by 201,000 youngsters since lawmakers passed restrictions four years ago.
The Senate passed the bill 30-1, after adding a requirement of electronic income checks for many families on the program. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, cast the only no vote. The bill now returns to the House, which is expected to reject the Senate's amendments.
"This is a really good measure," said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who personally negotiated a tightening of the House-passed bill, which would add an estimated 135,000 youngsters to the rolls.
Barbara Best, director of the Children's Defense Fund, which favors having the program again cover more than a half million youngsters, called the Senate bill "a great disappointment."
She said it's foolish to rely on technology to verify families' eligibility, one year after the state's privatization of signups for social programs lost many parents' applications and paycheck stubs.
"This is not the time to institute a complicated new eligibility check that relies on untested technology," Ms. Best said.
CHIP is a state-federal program that Congress created a decade ago to help families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private coverage.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would let families renew their coverage annually, instead of every six months. But while the House bill would require a family to prove its income annually, the Senate ordered a more frequent check.
To be eligible for CHIP, a family must make no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level – or $34,340 for a family of three. Under the Senate version of the bill, the Health and Human Services Commission would review every six months those CHIP households who make more than 150 percent of the poverty level – $25,755 for a family of three. Forty-three percent of CHIP households exceed that income.
The Senate bill recommends the commission use "electronic technology," such as scans of computerized databases on wages and employment, to check the households with higher incomes.
Earlier, Mr. Dewhurst told about 100 members of faith-based groups such as Dallas Area Interfaith that while he favors broader efforts to educate uninsured families that they may qualify for CHIP, it's important "at the same time [to] be true to the standards on eligibility through electronic checking."