LAWMAKERS, ADVOCATES WANT MORE COVERAGE FOR CHILDREN
(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini was joined by Rep. Sylvester Turner and child insurance advocates Tuesday in calling for broader health insurance coverage for the 1.5 million uninsured children in Texas. Zaffirini praised the increases to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) passed last session, but says more needs to be done. "Clearly we agree the greatest wealth is health," she said, quoting Emerson, "We can do a better job for the children of Texas, and secure a better education, because they are healthier."
According to Children's Defense Fund Texas Director Barbara Best, one in five Texas children lacks health insurance, the highest rate in the nation. Eighty percent of these children have parents that work, but can't afford or do not have private insurance. Best lauded the Legislature for restoring funding to CHIP last session, adding room for an additional 127,000 kids, of which 109,000 have already enrolled. She said, however, that Texas must find a way to guarantee health insurance for all children.
CHIP is available to families that make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $42,000 a year for a family of four. Zaffirini wants to give families that make a little more than this the option of buying into the program, with premiums determined by income above the poverty level. While income levels may pose a barrier for some families, Zaffirini said that more than 700,000 children in Texas qualify for state-assisted health care programs, yet are not enrolled because their parents don't know they qualify.
She gave a list of priorities for next session, to increase participation in CHIP and Medicaid. First, state and local governments must begin an outreach campaign, to let those eligible for CHIP know they are eligible, and also to implement an assistance program to help these families sign up. She says, the red tape surrounding the application process must be cut, and the state electronic filing system must be improved. Finally, she called for increasing the Medicaid coverage period from six to twelve months, as the Legislature did with CHIP last session. "This has been a long time goal, one that we have addressed repeatedly since the 1990's, and we must continue to prioritize," she said.