FINANCE COMMITTEE CONSIDERS CHIP BUY-IN PROGRAM
(AUSTIN) — Texas families currently ineligible for state-sponsored children's health insurance could buy into the program under a bill heard before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. Currently, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers almost half a million children from low-income families, but Texas still leads the nation in uninsured children. SB 841, by Waco Senator Kip Averitt, would create a graduated scale that would permit families above the eligibility limit to buy into CHIP. "I think we're going to be able to attract more children who currently don't have health insurance into the Children's Health Insurance Program," said Averitt.
Families are eligible for CHIP in Texas if they make 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), which is about $44,000 annual income for a family of four. Averitt's bill would create a graduated buy-in program for families from 200 to 300 percent of the FPL, which would cover a family of four with an annual income up to approximately $66,000. The Health and Human Services Commissioner would create the different buy-in levels, with the state contribution decreasing and the individual contribution increasing as income levels approached the 300 percent level. These levels would be tied to household income, set under the bill not to exceed 2.5 percent annual income. Families that make more than 300 percent of the FPL could still buy CHIP coverage, but they would pay the full cost of the insurance.
The bill also includes a lock-out provision, to prevent people enrolling children in the program only when they are sick. If a parent opts out of CHIP coverage, they could not re-enroll into CHIP until a certain length of time has passed, to be determined by the HHS Commissioner. There is cap on the number of families above 300 percent FPL permitted to buy in for the first two years. "Because this is a brand new scenario, we didn't want any unintended consequences to the original population," said Averitt. This cap would be 2,500 children the first year, 5,000 the second year, and then no cap in the third year and beyond.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m.