Texas CHIP Enrollment Reaches Highest Level in a Year

November 6, 2006

After months of declining enrollment, participation in Texas’ low-cost insurance program for the working poor jumped to more than 321,000 in November, state officials said Friday.

That’s the highest level in nearly a year. Last month, about 300,000 children were enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP.

About 16,000 children gained coverage this month because the state changed a rule that prevented them from being enrolled until their parents selected a health plan, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Under a new rule approved last month, such children will be automatically enrolled in a plan and their parents will be given a chance to change it, she said.

Some children who were enrolled this month had completed the application process six months ago and only lacked coverage because their families hadn’t chosen a plan, she said.

Problems with CHIP enrollment have become a big issue in the governor’s race.

Gov. Rick Perry’s three major challengers have accused him of booting 152,000 children off the CHIP rolls by making a host of changes in 2003, including instituting higher premiums and co-payments, and requiring families to renew their coverage every six months instead of every year.

Perry has defended the changes, saying they ensure only families who qualify for the benefits are receiving them.

Lawmakers restored some cuts last year. But enrollment has continued to falter in recent months amid problems with Accenture, the new contractor in charge of processing applications. Parents have complained that Accenture lost their applications, sent them erroneous information and couldn’t answer questions about their files.

Accenture has said it has worked to address problems and that every child who was inaccurately denied benefits was reinstated.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell and independent candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman have promised to fire Accenture, restore every cut lawmakers made in 2003 and enroll each child who qualifies.

One in five Texas children lack health insurance, according to the advocacy group Families USA, which promotes universal health coverage. That’s the highest rate in the nation.

More than half of the 1.4 million uninsured children in Texas are eligible for but not enrolled in CHIP or Children’s Medicaid, according to the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas.

Barbara Best, the Texas group’s executive director, said she is glad that the commission is working to identify systemic problems. But she said the state has a long way to go to rebuild the program that served more than 500,000 children three years ago.

“This isn’t about politics,” she said in a statement. “It’s about doing what’s right for our kids.”

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