CHIP Expansion Dies in Committee

Childrens' advocates are decrying the legislature's failure to pass a bill that would have expanded the Children's Health Insurance Program. They say thousands of Texas children may have to go without health insurance, as Jim Bell reports.

Democrats pushed the CHIP bill because it would have made an estimated 80 thousand more children eligible, by raising the family income requirement to middle income levels. Houston State Representative Garnet Coleman says Republicans blocked the bill because they don't think people in the middle income bracket should be eligible for federally funded health insurance.

"They see it as an expansion of government health care. And the conservative element of the party does not believe that the government ought to be involved in health care at any level."

Coleman says CHIP is different from national health care because eligible families pay premiums to be in the program, and they fall out of it if they don't pay, which, he thinks is just the sort of personal responsibility requirement conservatives believe in.

Barbara Best with the Children's Defense Fund blames legislative leaders for the failure.

"This is a great disappointment. This is a bill that had strong bipartisan support. It passed in the Senate by 29 to 2. It passed in the House by 87 to 55, and in the end it clearly just wasn't a priority for leadership."

Governor Rick Perry is expected to call a special session to pass some of the other major bills that didn't get passed in the regular session, and Best hopes he'll add the CHIP expansion to the agenda.

"Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation with one in every five children lacking coverage. That's 1.5 million uninsured children. 90 percent of children have at least one working parent, but they cannot afford or do not receive health insurance through their employers."

Garnet Coleman says he's expecting a special session, but he doesn't think CHIP will be on the agenda.

"The Governor's office has told me very clearly that if a CHIP bill had passed that he would be veto it. So the possibility is slim to none that the Governor would add that to any special session call."

If it's not added, state CHIP expansion is dead till the next session in 2011. 

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.

For more information, view the Children's Defense Fund website.