News Release from the office of State Senator Judith Zaffirini

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 14, 2008
Contact: Celeste Villarreal
512/463-0121

Senator Judith Zaffirini Questions Proposed Expansion of Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System

(AUSTIN) -- Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, senior member of the Texas Legislature's Eligibility System Legislative Oversight Committee, today (Monday) questioned Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins about the proposed expansion of the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS) to include all seniors and persons with disabilities who are benefit recipients before the statewide rollout. Meeting at the State Capitol, the committee also heard public testimony.

TIERS is a computer software program designed to assist Texans who qualify for state benefit programs by gathering their information to help them collect benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps. Since implementation by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in 2003, the program has proved difficult to navigate and faulty in processing and maintaining the integrity of critical data.

Senator Zaffirini questioned the disproportionate impact the HHSC's proposed expansion of TIERS has on seniors and persons with disabilities. She expressed concern that the plan risks the healthcare benefits of persons who are the most likely to need medical attention and least likely to successfully use this complex system. If the proposal is carried out, 100 percent of the cases involving Medicaid for the Elderly and People with Disabilities (MEPD) would be handled through TIERS, compared to only 22.4 percent of food stamp cases.

"Due consideration must be paid to the unique needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities," Senator Zaffirini said. "Existing TIERS errors must be identified, addressed, and fixed before this population is asked to utilize the system."

Senator Zaffirini provided suggestions for improving the program for the elderly and persons with disabilities, including developing additional benchmarks specific to the MEPD conversion and outreach to educate the MEPD population about how to navigate the program and avoid problems. Senator Zaffirini also proposed that extensions for eligibility to seniors and persons with disabilities be provided due to the problems associated with TIERS, the same way food stamp eligibility was expanded.

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst appointed the senator to the oversight committee last January.

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SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI is the senior member of the Eligibility System Legislative Oversight Committee, member of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee.


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