TEXAS: Democrats Say Bush ‘Exaggerated’ Health Funding
Three Texas Democratic state legislators said yesterday that Gov. George W. Bush (R) in last week's presidential debate "exaggerated state spending on health care for uninsured people in Texas," the New York Times reports. Three times during the debate, Bush said, "We spent $4.7 billion a year in the state of Texas for uninsured people." The three Democrats, all "senior members of the Texas House of Representatives," wrote a letter to Vice President Al Gore which said, that "[o]f the $4.7 billion referenced by the governor, $3.5 billion, or three-fourths of that amount, resulted from charity care provided by doctors and hospitals and care financed by local governments or charitable institutions." The letter, written by Elliott Naishtat, chair of the Human Services Committee, Glen Maxey, vice chair of the committee and Garnet Coleman, vice chair of the Public Health Committee, cited a report from the state comptroller earlier this year. The charge that Bush made "misleading" statements on health care comes amidst the Bush campaign's recent accusations that Gore has embellished and distorted the truth, according to the Times. Dan Bartlett, a spokesperson for the Bush campaign, said the governor had not meant "to imply that all of the $4.7 billion was state money." He added, "The governor was merely explaining that, contrary to Al Gore's distortions, people in Texas do have access to health care. We have a double safety net to make sure that people who don't have insurance receive the care they need" (Pear, New York Times, 10/16).
A Mess in Texas
Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Health has come under criticism for hiring a formerly homeless man with "no known qualifications" to conduct interviews of violent juveniles. Andre Eleazer was "discovered on the streets of Washington, D.C.," and did not have to submit a resume or compete for the $38,000 a year job, which was part of a six-month study on the "root causes of youth violence." The Health Department "claimed" Eleazer -- a close friend of Gerald Campbell, a special advisor to Health Commissioner Dr. William Archer III (R) -- was "uniquely qualified." Texas House Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Junell (D) said the hiring was "probably not appropriate," adding, "We've been cited by a federal judge for not doing enough for getting children signed up for health screenings. But we can go hire some friend of a friend who doesn't have a Social Security number and pay him with state dollars to do a job I'm not sure is statutorily required." Coleman said he believed the youth violence study should have been conducted at the University of Texas or the University of Houston. He said, "I think this is appalling. None of these folks [involved in the study] that are doing these interviews have a psychological or mental health background and are interviewing children, who obviously have trauma in their lives, for a purpose that is not clear." Bush's office did not directly comment on the hiring. Health Department spokesperson Doug McBride said "it is perfectly legal to waive job posting requirements" (Hughes, Houston Chronicle, 10/14).
Expand Coverage for Children
A Dallas Morning News editorial examines the state of health care for children in the Lone Star State, and says it must "redouble [its] efforts" to get more kids enrolled in the Medicaid program and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Although it recognizes that Medicaid is "an entitlement program that could grow," the editorial states that "getting services to kids should be the priority" and calls for the state to simplify and ease Medicaid enrollment by making it "more consistent" with CHIP enrollment. And while "Texas representatives in the last legislative session finally agreed to address the issue" of uninsured children, the editorial concludes that the "Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Legislature must revisit this issue" (Dallas Morning News, 10/15).