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."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

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

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