Children's hospitals to seek more state funding

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Texas Legislature's spending decisions this session on transportation, water, education and healthcare will affect the lives of Texas families for years to come.

Texas is experiencing rapid population growth, and this is especially true with children. The 2010 U.S. Census, showed 6.9 million children in Texas.

In the U.S. between 2000 and 2010, the number of children increased by 1.9 million. More than one-half (53 percent) of this increase was due to the increase in the number of children in Texas.

Children's hospitals, already dealing with the challenges of serving this growing population, will be asking the Legislature to improve funding for children's healthcare.

The budget the Legislature passed in 2011 was "balanced" in that budgeted expenditures did not exceed the anticipated revenues for 2012 and 2013. However, to balance the budget, lawmakers made significant reductions in education and health programs and pushed some expenses forward for the next session to address.

The Legislature did not fully fund Medicaid services for the 2013 fiscal year, which started last September and runs through August. One of the first items of business will be to appropriate $4.7 billion to pay for Medicaid and other health and human services programs for the rest of this fiscal year.

More than 3 million children in Texas are enrolled in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), making these programs indispensable to Texas families. This is an investment in the health of children that goes hand in hand with our investment in public education.

To the children's hospitals of Texas, these are not just statistics. We see vulnerable sick and injured children in our outpatient clinics, physician offices and hospitals every day. Our hospitals are the pediatric safety net, providing specialized care that children cannot receive elsewhere. In 2010, the eight Children's Hospital Association of Texas members served children from all but 13 of the state's 254 counties.

And yet, in 2011, payments to children's hospitals were reduced by more than $100 million for the 2012-13 biennium, which included cuts for outpatient specialty clinics and emergency departments. But the number of children needing medical care is increasing.

Medicaid serves children with disabilities, in foster care and in lower-income families, who tend to have more health problems. Children's hospitals care for the sickest and most medically complex patients. More than half the children admitted to children's hospitals are covered by Medicaid.

If state funding for children's Medicaid does not keep up with the costs necessary to serve a growing child population, children's hospitals will face major difficulties in providing the range of comprehensive services that any child in Texas could need someday.

CHIP provides coverage for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. The Health and Human Services Commission is asking the Legislature to provide $2.7 billion for CHIP for the 2014-15 biennium, an increase of $380 million, to meet growing need. CHIP had an average caseload of about 606,700 in fiscal 2012, and that is expected to keep rising to more than 653,000 in 2015, according to the commission.

Although there are many challenges, Texas is blessed with a prosperous economy and a growing population. Our state's children deserve to grow up as healthy as possible, and we should ensure that they have access to top-quality medical care.

Bryan Sperry is president of the Texas Children's Hospital Association, whose members include Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth.

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