An Effort to Insure More Children

Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured children. The effect impacts health insurance premiums and shifts the costs to local hospitals and taxpayers. It was the topic of a discussion between business leaders and lawmakers hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership. Pat Hernandez has more.

One in every five children in Texas lacks insurance coverage. That issue was the focus of a sold-out meeting of business leaders, healthcare professionals and representatives from the school system. Lan Bentsen is the co-founder of Frontera Resources, a Houston-based international oil and gas company. The son of the late Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen chairs the advisory board of the University of Texas School of Public Health.

"Uninsured children is typically in everybody's mind, somebody else's problem and to the extent that they need care or whatever, they certainly get it for free. Those are seriously wrong images in the mind."

He says 100-percent of the cost of the uninsured is borne by business, either through property taxes at the Harris County Hospital District or through insurance premiums.

"Hospitals pass through. It's called cost-shifting. The cost of the uninsured care into that insurance premium base. And so, here you'll find 13 to 18-percent of our insurance premiums are actually paying for the uninsured, and a lot of folks just didn't realize that."

80% of uninsured children live in working families, but they cannot afford or do not receive health coverage through their employers.

Kyla Hebert attended the gathering. She discussed her daughter's special medical needs and how her family repeatedly lost coverage because her husband got a small raise or a cost of living adjustment:

"We were 20-dollars and 54-cents above the income limit, so he had to go back to his employer and ask for a pay decrease, and so, we're currently uninsured. We're waiting for their coverage to be reinstated."

More than half of these uninsured children are currently eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, but they're not enrolled. Barbara Best, the executive director of the Children's Defense Fund, says there are some real challenges to having parents sign up for CHIP and Medicaid, as well as dealing with paperwork.

"For Medicaid, families need to re-apply every six months to keep their coverage, and as a result, eligible children are being dis-enrolled because of processing errors and delays and backlogs. We need to fix that."

She says one of the legislative priorities is 12-months coverage for children's Medicaid instead of the current six, and the creation of a buy-in program for families above the CHIP income limit.  Jeff Moseley, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says the need to maximize federal matching funds is an important part of their legislative agenda.

"The pot of money has grown in Washington. That's the good news. And the eligibility, arguably, is much greater now, so there are dollars there to come back to our state, if we step up and provide the match."

More information can be found at www.txfinishline.org

Pat Hernandez, KUHF...Houston Public Radio News.
 

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Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...