Texas has the highest uninsured rate for children in the country and the rate continues to rise with more than ten percent of Texas children without health coverage. This is unacceptable.

If children go without coverage, even for a brief period, they may end up needing more expensive health care services, like an ER visit for a preventable asthma attack. 

State Rep. Philip Cortez

Meanwhile, children with health coverage are more likely to get early diagnoses of serious illnesses, get glasses they need for school, attend regular check-ups, and continue therapies they need for disabilities or developmental delays. 

From 2002 to 2013, Texas Medicaid provided children with six-month segments of continuous eligibility, therefore children’s health coverage was not lost unless a child moved out of state or turned 19. In 2014, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) changed the eligibility process for children by requiring one income check at the six month mark, followed by “month-to-month” coverage, and are subject to income checks at months 5, 6, 7, and 8. 

This policy created a burden on families due to redundant income checks and insufficient time frames to submit income verification paperwork. With multiple income checks and the lack of continuous coverage, children in Medicaid continue to fall through the cracks abruptly removed from the program—even if they are still technically eligible.

That is why I filed House Bill (HB) 342, which would allow children to remain enrolled for a continuous period of 12 months at a time. This is the only bill this session to directly address our rising uninsured rate for children. This bill is bipartisan and has broad support from child advocates, health plans, children’s hospitals, mental health experts, and rural hospitals. 

As amended, the Legislative Budget Board anticipates this bill will have no fiscal implication to the state, thus ensuring eligible children are covered at no additional expense to taxpayers. This is not about Medicaid expansion, rather a program to ensure children who are already eligible for Medicaid receive the coverage they need.

Twelve-month continuous eligibility is common practice across the country, and is also the method utilized by CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). Parity with CHIP would remove red tape, increase efficiency in Medicaid, reduce workload and administrative costs for the state, and prevent eligible children from cycling on and off of insurance coverage.

Texas cannot continue being the state with the highest rate of uninsured children, especially when a significant factor of this issue is bureaucratic red tape produced by a system with proven flaws. Let’s show that this Legislature values children’s health, and that we can work together make a difference.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column by state Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio is part of a series of of contributions from members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. The series will run for the duration of the 86th Legislative Session.