By Jenny Eyer & Dan Micciche

Health coverage for children means a lot more than a yearly doctor’s visit. Children with health coverage have better school attendance, higher educational attainment, and improved economic opportunities than those without coverage. If a child without coverage needs medical services, the family must make an expensive trip to an emergency room for even common medical issues—and the taxpayer foots the bill. Nearly 1 million children in Texas, many of whom live right here in Dallas, do not have consistent coverage, resulting in inflated treatment costs and wasted educational resources. Fortunately, this Legislative Session, state legislators have the power to pass policy that prioritizes children’s health, reduces burdensome red tape for struggling families, increases kid’s access to health services, and makes good economic sense. We must ensure they take action.

Children can qualify for health coverage through their parent’s employer, other private insurance, or public coverage (if the child is a citizen and from a low-income family). All of these options ensure children can see a doctor and get needed prescriptions. When a child does not have coverage, these necessary benefits are not accessible or affordable, putting the family in a tenuous position and negatively impacting the child’s ability to learn.

For Texas children without private coverage, the Children’s Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides critical coverage to ensure children’s medical needs are met. However, Texas makes it unnecessarily difficult for struggling families and children to access health coverage. In 2014, Texas began requiring additional paperwork for children on Medicaid, which is a program for families in the lowest income bracket. Rather than an annual renewal process, similar to those for private insurance or CHIP, families with children on Medicaid are required to provide additional paperwork, up to five times per year per child.

This cumbersome process is unique to Texas. No other state requiring families to provide information this frequently. This additional paperwork has not only led to confusion but worse, eligible children are unnecessarily losing their health coverage. New data suggests that over 4,000 eligible children lose their coverage every month in Texas because of this excessive red tape.

If a child without coverage needs medical services, their family must rely on expensive emergency room visits. It doesn’t make economic sense. Taxpayers want to support public education, not overpriced medical care.

The Texas Legislature can and should fix this systems failure. Allowing children to have twelve months of continuous coverage through Medicaid, similar to that of private insurance and CHIP and similar to the practice of other state Medicaid programs, would reduce administrative burdens and ensure the ability of our most vulnerable children to have access to care.

Allowing children to have twelve months of continuous coverage through Medicaid will keep kids connected to health care, reduce health costs, and improve educational outcomes. Children with stable coverage are diagnosed with illnesses earlier, are not reliant on emergency departments for routine care, and can obtain the prescriptions and eyeglasses they need. This leads to better school attendance, better grades, and a stronger future workforce.

We all want our students to have access to high performing schools, with caring and involved teachers and administrators to provide them with the skills needed to grow and learn. But even the best education settings possible mean nothing if we do not have healthy children in the classrooms ready to learn. The education community calls on legislators to support bills that will give health access to all Texas children. We also call upon all readers to contact their representatives and let them know that this is the moment of truth for Texas: Will we take the steps to give kids twelve months of continuous coverage through Medicaid, or will we choose to stay in the status quo and consign these kids to a dimmer future?

Jenny Eyer is the North Texas Interim Managing Director and Director of the Center for Child Health Research & Policy at CHILDREN AT RISK.

Dan Micciche is a Dallas ISD Trustee for District 3.