AUSTIN (AP) _ Enrollment in the state's low-cost health insurance program for children of the working poor has increased by almost 109,000 since lawmakers made it easier for families to enroll last year.
But even as lawmakers and advocates lauded the success of the Children's Health Insurance Program, they cautioned that 1.5 million Texas children are still uninsured — the highest rate in the nation — and laid out plans to chip away at the number of uninsured children.
"We celebrate the 526,000 who will be enrolled but recognize that another 700,000 qualify for CHIP and Medicaid and are unenrolled," said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat. "Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children, and that is absolutely abominable. We must raise ourselves from this position."
The state expected enrollment to rise after the Legislature extended CHIP coverage from six months to a year. The enrollment period was cut in half in 2003, as a budget-cutting move.
CHIP is available to families who can't afford private insurance coverage but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for the poor.
Zaffirini said she'd like to increase the eligibility guidelines to make it available to families who make up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level — up from the current limit of 200 percent, or $41,300 for a family of four.
That change would help families like the Heberts of Houston, whose 3-year-old daughter Katie struggles with an undiagnosed neurological disorder that includes debilitating seizures and costly therapies. She lost her insurance coverage in February when the Children's Hospital Plan ended.
The family makes $260 a month over the CHIP income limit, and their employer sponsored insurance would cost almost $1,000 a month while still not covering much of Katie's health care.
"We pay our bills, we pay our taxes, we're financially responsible and we're more than willing to pay our children's health care; we just don't have the opportunity to do so," said Katie's mother, Kyla Hebert, who said her husband will soon ask for a pay cut so their daughter will qualify for CHIP. "It shouldn't be this way. He shouldn't have to give up his career in order to provide for his children."
On the Web: www.texaskidswin.org
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.