AUSTIN, Texas — After one of the Texas House’s top legislative priorities for this session was thought to be effectively dead when the Senate failed to take it up for a vote before a major deadline last week, it's now passed through the Legislature after being tacked on to another bill.
House Bill 290 removes bureaucratic hurdles that cause children who are eligible for Medicaid to cycle in and out of coverage, and was passed on Sunday after being added to HB 2658.
“Twelve-point-seven percent of kids in Texas are uninsured. That's not a title we want to hold," said Katie Mitten, a health policy associate for the nonprofit Texans Care For Children.
As a social worker, she has seen firsthand how important it is for kids to have continuous health care coverage.
“That means they're able to go to their health care appointments, get their checkups, immunizations, see a doctor if there's any sort of mental health concerns or developmental concerns," said Mitten.
She’s spent the past two years advocating for Texas lawmakers to pass House Bill 290.
Rep. Philip Cortez, D-District 117, filed the bill, which makes it easier for children eligible for Medicaid to get and keep their coverage.
“These children do come from households where they may be low-income households, households of color, and so ensuring that they have access to health care is a basic human right," Cortez said.
Right now, low-income families whose children are enrolled in Medicaid undergo four mid-year reviews that are meant to ensure their continued eligibility for the program.
“These income checks are often inaccurate and flagged kids that are in fact eligible. Families only have currently 10 days to respond to those requests for additional information about their income. If a family doesn't respond within that time limit, they lose their coverage," said Mitten.
House Bill 290 takes that down to one mid-year review, where families would have 30 days to prove their continued eligibility.
A study from Georgetown University found that in 2019 there were nearly 1 million kids without health insurance in Texas, more than any other state.
“It’s too often we'll see kids fall off, and they end up losing access to medication that they need or they miss well-child visits and miss screenings that they should have, and just fall behind," said Dr. Seth Kaplan, president of the Texas Pediatric Society.
The bill was on the list of House priorities to pass this session, but was thought to have died in the Senate after the upper chamber failed to bring it to the floor for a vote before a major deadline.
“We’ve been working for two years to prepare for this and be ready to come back and pass this bill so we're deeply disappointed that this bill is looking like it's not going to pass up the Legislature this session," said Mitten.
But that doesn’t mean she’s given up.
“We are obviously looking to see if there might be some bills that HB 290 might be able to get tacked on to in conference committee, so there's a few bills that we’re eyeing," she said.
With the session ending on Monday, the Legislature passed HB 290 in the nick of time on Sunday, after adding it on to another bill, HB 2658.
Rep. Cortez said in a statement, "The passage of HB 2658 with HB 290 included, will ensure more Texas children can keep their Medicaid health insurance. The current system is not working for families, who must deal with numerous eligibility checks throughout a one year period only to show up to doctors office's to learn their child is not covered by Medicaid. Thank you to Speaker Phelan, Chairman James Frank, and my House and Senate colleagues for making sure Texas children get the healthcare they need and deserve. Healthcare for Texas kids is not a Democrat or Republican partisan issue. It's a Texas issue. We owe that to our children who are the future of Texas."
House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement, "HB 290 through HB 2658 is included in my 'Healthy Families, Healthy Texas' package and I'm pleased to see the bipartisan support to get this policy put into law. My thanks to Chairman Philip Cortez and Chairman James Frank for leading the way on this important legislation for Texas children."