Perry's Office Freezes Over

The governor has a compassion attack – or perhaps electoral indigestion

Maybe it was the embarrassment of having Texas account for more than half of the national enrollment decline in the Children's Health Insurance Program, according to a recent Kaiser Foundation study. Or maybe it was that Texas CHIP had already dropped 148,000 children as of July, about twice the attrition rate expected from the changes mandated by the Lege last year. Or maybe it was because the legislative architect of all these cuts, state Rep. Arlene "the Slasher" Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, is now locked in a tense campaign with incumbent U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco.

Or maybe it was just a sudden attack of compassion. Whatever the reason, last week Gov. Rick Perry directed the Health and Human Services Commission to "suspend indefinitely" a plan requiring some 20,000 families to either pony up a new, higher fee for CHIP coverage or have their children dropped from the program. The governor suggested that either a different fee schedule – or else "incentives" like restoring eliminated dental coverage – be considered to get families back in compliance. Since advocates reported that at least some families had been forced to choose between paying the new fees and providing emergency dental care for no-longer-covered children, maybe an incentive program – or just restoring CHIP to what it was before – has begun to make sense.

But the miracles didn't stop there. This week, the governor announced that after months of political pressure by sources ranging from patient advocates to Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, he was restoring some $561 million in health care funds that had been cut from the last budget. Perry credited "greater cost-effectiveness" and "fiscal discipline" for the ability to restore the funds, although much of the sum came from federal aid allocated to help the cash-strapped states in just such a fix. The money will go to restore Medicaid coverage to pregnant women, support higher caseloads in Medicaid and CHIP, and other health care needs.

The announcement didn't come without some political feedback. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick suggested dryly that they had been prepared to act on the allocation themselves at next week's meeting of the Legislative Budget Board – suggesting Perry had jumped the gun and taken the credit. And state Rep. Aaron Peña, speaking on behalf of the Tejano Democrats, was even harsher. He compared Perry's action to "a guy who expects to get a pat on the back for pulling out a garden hose when it was he who set your house on fire."

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Naked City
Naked City

July 27, 2007

On the Lege: A $156 Million Disaster
On the Lege: A $156 Million Disaster
The Accenture scheme blows up in the state's face

March 23, 2007

More by Michael King
<i>Hope and Hard Truth: A Life in Texas Politics</i>
Hope and Hard Truth: A Life in Texas Politics
Life beyond the governor’s office with Ann Richards’ chief aide

Sept. 2, 2022

Embattled Doctor Prevails Against the Texas Medical Board
Embattled Doctor Prevails Against the Texas Medical Board
The little guy wins

June 24, 2022


Rick Perry, Children's Health Insurance Program, CHIP, Health and Human Services Commission, HHSC, Arlene Wohlgemuth, Chet Edwards, Aaron Peña, Carole Keeton Strayhorn

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle