AP NEWS

Medicaid red tape not good for state, parents

April 3, 2019

State government has to be sure that every child who receives Medicaid coverage qualifies for the program, but its current rules take this goal too far. They seem more designed to prevent children from getting health care, and that is cruel and indefensible.

The main problem is that parents must verify their income status twice a year for every child on Medicaid instead of once a year, which is the policy for the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program. That covers families with slightly higher incomes than those in Medicaid.

If annual reviews are good enough for CHIP coverage, and many other governmental programs, they should be good enough for Medicaid. These six-month income checks, by the way, are required in addition to an annual renewal process for parents to keep their children enrolled in Medicaid.

Many parents are put off by this bureaucratic barrier, especially those who don’t have a lot of education or speak English well. Yet these are the very parents that Medicaid is designed for because their children invariably don’t have health insurance through a parent’s job.

About 50,000 kids lose Medicaid coverage each year because of the qualification hurdles. Yet a third of those children are re-enrolled within a year. That suggests they qualified all along but lost coverage because of paperwork problems, not their parents’ income changes.

These gaps in coverage can make it hard for parents to keep their children healthy. As Dr. Ben Raimer, president of the Texas Pediatric Society, put it, “If we keep them healthy they are in school, they will get an education, they will grow up healthy. If we fail to keep them healthy, particularly those with chronic disease like diabetes and asthma, we are going to be in a real pickle in the future.”

Texas already leads the nation in uninsured children, with about 835,000 having no coverage. Bureaucratic games like this only make that problem worse.

A bill filed by Rep. Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, would change state policy and provide one year of continuous coverage for children on Medicaid. Again, that’s the same time standard for the state’s CHIP coverage.

The Legislature should support this bill to save staff time and keep more eligible children covered. If the state’s goal is to punish the poor and see more children miss school days because of preventable illnesses, it should continue the current policy.