Naked City

C.H.I.P.: Many Kids, Left Behind

Another vicious twist entered the fiscal debate at the Capitol last week, as Health and Human Services budget-writers proposed saving the elderly and disabled by throwing the children out of the lifeboat. A week after the HHS Commission proposed jettisoning half (250,000) of the Texas children now receiving health care under the Children's Health Insurance Program, the HHS funding subcommittee suggested that won't be enough. Under its current proposal -- to be reviewed by the full Appropriations Committee before it goes to the House floor -- Texas would withdraw from the state/federal C.H.I.P. program altogether, thereby saving about $428 million in state funds. This would make Texas the only state not part of C.H.I.P., and it would cost the state $1 billion in federal matching funds. But lawmakers argue that abandoning C.H.I.P. would allow Texas to continue Medicaid drug benefits for 460,000 elderly and disabled people with annual incomes of less than $6,684.

That's the latest "economy" forced upon budget-writers by leadership orders to bridge a $9.9 billion gap without new taxes. Even abolishing C.H.I.P. would not avert the need to cut Medicaid reimbursements by one-third -- thus driving many doctors and hospitals out of Medicaid altogether. Even while they were proposing the cuts, subcommittee members said they don't believe they will be enacted. Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, recommended the proposal as a way to save the Medicaid drug benefits, but insisted he won't vote for such a budget and told the San Antonio Express-News, "This is the best we can do -- and it's terrible. It makes you want to puke." Subcommittee Chair Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, said, "This is just a definition of the problem. It's not taking into account the solution to the problem," and released a statement that finding funds to restore C.H.I.P., at least in part, remains a "top priority."

Her assurances were echoed by Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, both of whom said they want to save C.H.I.P. -- but don't know how. Dewhurst has suggested securitizing the state's tobacco lawsuit funds, at best a temporary solution, and said that the state's revenue situation may improve. That notion was disputed by Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton, who said sales-tax revenues continue to decline, and deficit projection may in fact increase.

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