Nearly Half-Million Low-Income Texas Kids May Not Lose Health Insurance After All, Abbott Says

The Associated Press

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott says federal officials have assured him that Congress will extend funding for a health insurance program that covers more than 400,000 Texas children from low-income families.

Renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program has been in question, raising the prospect that Texas would begin mailing notices of cancellation during the Christmas holidays.

Abbott said Wednesday, though, that during a trip to Washington this week he discussed CHIP and a Medicaid issue important to Texas with a top aide to President Donald Trump and with members of the Texas congressional delegation.

Andrew Bremberg, assistant to the president and director of the Domestic Policy Council, said he believes there’s a “high probability” that CHIP funding will be approved before the end of this calendar year, Abbott said. The Republican governor said he received similar assurances from the Texas congressional delegation.

For many weeks, pediatric health care providers and advocates for the poor have fretted that money for the state-federal program soon would run out. The federal government pays most of the tab — 93 percent for nearly 248,000 of the Texas kids enrolled, and 69 percent for the rest.

Encouraging news

“It’s very encouraging to hear that he’s optimistic,” Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said of Abbott.

“I’m delighted it’s ‘high probability,’ but would be more comfortable if there were 100 percent certainty that families won’t be getting notices that their children’s CHIP coverage is going to end in December or January,” she said.

Texas has offered CHIP to working families since 2000. The $1.7 billion-a-year program provides private insurance coverage to kids whose parents’ incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid but are less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, the income limit this year is $49,200.

In August, CHIP covered about 402,500 children and nearly 35,000 women receiving prenatal care and post-delivery checkups. In Dallas County, slightly more than 50,000 children and 5,800 women were enrolled.

Congress allowed funding for the program to expire Sept. 30. Originally, the state Health and Human Services Commission estimated it had enough money to keep CHIP running until February. But a decision to waive Hurricane Harvey victims’ CHIP fees and co-payments burned through some of the money, raising the prospect funds could run out in January, said commission spokeswoman Carrie Williams.

State law forces a shutdown of CHIP if federal funds run out. It requires the commission to give families 30 days’ notice the coverage will end. That created a possible scenario in which Texas would have to mail notices of termination before Christmas. But that won’t happen if Congress acts, Williams explained.

Talks on Medicaid ‘waiver’ continue

On another health care policy matter, Abbott said he also discussed with Bremberg on Tuesday the status of the state’s request for a renewal of a “Medicaid transformation waiver.” It expires Dec. 31 unless federal officials extend it.

Using local property tax money from hospitals such as Dallas’ Parkland Memorial Hospital as “state match,” Texas has drawn down about $3.5 billion a year in special federal Medicaid money. The money helps hospitals defray costs of uninsured Texans’ care and pay for novel methods of improving indigents’ health.

Negotiations on the waiver are still ongoing, Abbott said. He did not elaborate.

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