Red tape keeping Texas children off health insurance

Texas children health insurance

By Jef Rouner

Texas continues to have the highest rate of children without health insurance. A recently released report from Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy found that 21 percent of all uninsured American children live in the Lone Star State.

The report determined that, for the second year in a row, Texas’ health insurance rates are trending down. 

“Texas has the dubious honor of being the only state in the country where the uninsured rate is in double digits,” says Joan Alker, who co-authored the report. “Texas historically has a stingy children’s coverage program. All the reasons coverage rates are getting worse are present in Texas.”

Alker cites many reasons why the numbers keep climbing, including cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other actions by the Trump administration against the Affordable Care Act. That said, a prime driver of the high rates is the fault of Texas and its labyrinthine and cruel execution of Medicaid.

In Texas, once a child is approved for Medicaid they are covered for six months. At the conclusion of that six-month period, the state requires parents to file income updates monthly to continue the coverage. 

If for any reason the state determines there is a problem, they send out a letter giving parents 10 days from the time the letter is generated — rather than 10 days from receipt — to respond with the necessary paperwork. 

There’s no time off for weekends or holidays, which can be a problem if a parent needs to acquire paystubs or other proof of income to satisfy the state’s already difficult-to-reach income threshold for eligibility.

This has led to many children being removed from the Medicaid rolls, despite still qualifying for the program.

According to Adriana Kohler, Senior Health Policy Associate at Texans Care for Children, the paperwork is inaccurate 33 percent of the time, leading to 50,000 Texas kids annually being dropped from their coverage. 

Dropped kids can be re-enrolled later, but doing so causes obvious coverage gaps that can seriously affect treatment.

“The new data should be a wake-up call for state and federal leaders,” says Kohler. “This is bad news all around.”

Texas children health insurance crisis could be solved by legislature

Some obvious fixes suggested by the experts that the state legislature could institute include signing children up for 12 months of continuous coverage rather than six months and requiring parents to file updated paperwork just once a year, similar to re-enrollment with employer-provided health insurance. 

Barring that, the state could open the window that parents have to respond from 10 days to 30 or more. Children could be automatically enrolled in CHIP if they fail the eligibility requirements for Medicaid since they would still likely qualify.

The state could also expand Medicaid to the recommended ACA guidelines of all citizens under 138 percent of the federal poverty level. 

The current leadership’s refusal to consider this initiative has been a political hot potato for Republicans hoping to thwart the health care reforms of former President Obama. 

It’s estimated that at least 700 people die in Texas each year the state continues to refuse the expansion of Medicaid.

“The state legislature must make healthcare a priority next session,” says Kohler. “No child should be forced to go without care because their parents picked up an extra shift at work or changed jobs.”

Both Kohler and Alker are quick to point out that rumors and conspiracy theories involving Texas’ rate related to coverage of undocumented immigrants are false. Medicaid is only available to United States citizens.

“This is a problem for kids of all backgrounds, across the states,” says Kohler. “It affects cities and rural areas, all ethnic kinds. These are all citizens, but they are being denied access. Some might say the high rate is because of illegal immigrant kids, and that’s just not true.”

Alker does point out that recent government animosity against immigrants might be affecting the legal citizens of Texas, though. Parents of kids who are citizens are hesitant to utilize the programs their children are entitled to out of dread it will lead to their families being broken up.

“There’s a chilling effect in immigrant families,” says Alker. “These families with a mixed-status where the child is a citizen but the parent is not? They’re scared of interacting with the government for fear of being deported.”

Texas’ growth will partially depend on the state is willing to rectify the problems it has with health coverage for its citizens. For kids especially, it can lead to a better future as more productive citizens.

“It’s important for kids to have coverage,” says Alker. “It leads to lower incarceration rates, higher graduation rates, and better economic outcomes.”

Lone Star Agenda recruits Biedermann and Tinderholt

Lone Star Agenda

Lone Star Agenda can claim two new recruits. For state Reps. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) and Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), the talk of Texas turning “purple” falls on deaf ears. 

Instead of taking a more moderate approach following Texas’ “kumbaya session,” Bidermann and Tinderholt have doubled down in their conservative efforts, announcing their support for the Lone Star Agenda

Don Dyer, owner of a professional janitorial services company in Austin, launched the coalition in July. His name is undoubtedly familiar among the state’s more conservative Republicans. Since 2013, Dyer has donated $120,000 to Attorney General Ken Paxton, $56,000 to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and $80,000 to the Republican Party of Texas. 

On the Lone Star Agenda Facebook page, the coalition calls for Texas Republicans to unite and “keep Texas Red” by providing elected officials with a “legislative package that will inspire, excite and ignite the [Republican] base.” In a letter to Gov. Abbott last month, the organization pushed for a special session to enact their agenda. 

Lone Star Agenda’s legislative initiatives as defined on their website include: 

Family Rights and Personal Liberty

  1. Allow families to make mental and physical health decisions for themselves. 
  2. Stop wrongful removal of children from families by restoring due process rights for parents.
  3. Stop local ordinances that interfere in private employer-employee relationships.
  4. Increase protections for unborn Texans.

Transparent and Representative Government

  1. Improve election integrity with paper ballot backup audit trails and citizenship verification.
  2. End taxpayer-funded lobbying.
  3. End union dues withholding from public-sector paychecks.
  4. Protect Texas monuments.

Justice and Security

  1. Secure the southern border (interior enforcement to end the “magnet” effect).
  2. Stop human trafficking.
  3. Protect the rights of Texans to bear arms.

The Lone Star Agenda plan for allowing families to make mental and physical health decisions for themselves includes amending “recently passed mental health legislation to provide protections for parental and civil rights.” The coalition fails to define which recently passed legislation they wish to see amended. Texas has struggled severely in providing adequate mental health services, especially in public schools. Instead of a plan to address the state’s mental health crisis, the Lone Star Agenda wants to repeal some of the positive changes made in the past session. 

The phrase “Stop wrongful removal of children from families by restoring due process rights for parents” also raises concerns. The Lone Star Agenda’s bullet points under this initiative are “prevent CPS workers from exceeding their legal authority in investigations” and “protect the due process rights of investigated families.” 

In a state where a crumbling Child Protective Services (CPS) system continues to disappoint, legislators should be looking for and implementing improvements to the system, not perpetuating the issue by limiting CPS capabilities instead of offering a solution.   

In addition to Rep. Biedermann and Rep. Tinderholt, support for the Lone Star Agenda includes Empower Texans, Texans for Vaccine Choice, and Texas Home School Coalition. 

When Kyle Biedermann announced his support for the coalition, he said, “if a special session is called, I will be filing multiple pieces of legislation on the agenda and sponsoring any other bills filed. If not, I will be filing portions of the agenda in 2021.” 

However, in this past session, Biedermann did not support initiatives included in the Lone Star Agenda. Biedermann chose not to support efforts to stop human trafficking when he voted against a bill that would enact a treatment program for child sex trafficking victims and create a sex trafficking prevention grant program for municipalities and law enforcement agencies. 

Tony Tinderholt’s support of the agenda’s push for transparent and representative government is particularly interesting, considering his propensity to vote for relaxing the rules on himself. Tinderholt has also raked in thousands of dollars from special interest groups and political action committees. He has also been known to vote for the groups that contributed to his campaign.   

Rep. Tinderholt should be especially careful not to alienate any voters in his district. In 2018, Tinderholt defeated Democratic challenger Finnigan Jones by a narrow 8.6 percent margin.

The political future of the state remains to be seen, but if Texas is turning purple, Kyle Biedermann and Tony Tinderholt are turning their heads.  

Texas beer-to-go law benefits customers and brewers

Texas beer-to-go

By John Luedemann

On September 1, craft breweries across Texas embraced the end of an era. On that fall day, the state relinquished its status as the only one in the country that prevented consumers from Texas beer-to-go, directly from the manufacturer.

The effort was led by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, which represents more than 250 brewery members. The goal was to overcome the restrictions resulting from a decades-old structure governing beer sales in Texas. Developed in the wake of prohibition, the Three-Tier System requires separate entities to manage the manufacturing, distribution, and sales of alcoholic beverages.

For the booming craft brewing industry, this approach required customers to enjoy beer selections while visiting a manufacturer’s taproom or choosing only from those products available at a retailer.

But now, the constraints have been lifted. Breweries can sell up to 288 ounces per customer, per day, directly from their facilities, thanks to House Bill 1545. And although the impact is only beginning to materialize, Texas breweries are optimistic about the future.

Austin Beerworks – Austin, Texas

Austin Beerworks, and its co-founder, Adam DeBower, had a front-row seat for the beer-to-go legislative effort, from start to finish. DeBower serves as legislative committee chair for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law during an event at the brewery.

“Every single day, we would have ten to twenty people come through the doors with an expectation that they could buy beer and take it with them when they left,” said DeBower.

In his push for the legislation, DeBower spent 30 out of the 140 days of last congressional session knocking on doors, meeting with elected officials and their staffers to make a case for change.

He also described the issue’s importance more broadly. DeBower considered it necessary to complete the sense of community that has driven growth in the craft beer industry nationwide. 

“We spend most of our time at work or at home, and people are looking for that third place where they can spend time together and experience and opportunity to be together. And I think that’s something that we offer,” he explained. “It’s not so much that we’re selling beer. We’re giving them a place where they can come together and experience friendship and family and fellowship.”

On the business side, he expects beer-to-go sales to increase awareness and loyalty, driving overall sales, and the brewery’s October numbers have been highly encouraging. DeBower also expects to-go sales to create additional leverage for their efforts to bring new beers to retail coolers.

“If a beer that is developed in a taproom becomes successful, we can take that to HEB and Whole Foods or Central Market or wherever and tell them you know, this is a taproom beer that has been absolutely killing it,” said DeBower. “It’s an opportunity for us to demonstrate value to our partners out in the real world, outside the brewery.”

Holler Brewery – Houston, Texas

John Holler has dealt with the frustrations of the previous rules since opening Holler Brewery with his wife, Kathryn, three years ago.

“From the day we opened, Texas beer-to-go was something our customers asked us for,” said Holler.

A passionate opponent of the Three-Tier System, Holler, was particularly frustrated with the conversations that followed a request to buy Texas beer-to-go to enjoy later.

“Having to tell them ‘no’ meant losing a sale, but then having to explain why, when there was really no legitimate reason, meant poisoning an otherwise lovely customer experience,” he recalled.

Now, in addition to enjoying their time at the Holler Brewery’s taproom, just off Houston’s thriving Washington Avenue, patrons can take a case of Pub Crusher or growler of Dollar Pills Y’all home for later. Without hesitation, Holler also described another advantage of the change.

“We sell more beer now!” he laughed.

He went on to explain that informing customers they could now purchase their favorite brews to go has been predictably smooth.

“There is no effort necessary because this law makes complete sense. No customer is surprised when they find out it’s legal for them to buy Texas beer-to-go, because it’s legal in all other states, and it’s legal to buy wine from a winery and liquor from a distillery.”

Community Brewing Co. – Dallas, Texas

Kevin Carr, who co-founded Community Brewing Co. with Jamie Fulton, has seen an overwhelming response from customers thanks to the new law. This is, in part, because they can now introduce them to a wider variety of products. 

“We can now offer smaller-batch brews that otherwise would not be released to the market through our distributors and retailers.” 

Despite the concerns from the other two tiers in the Three-Tier System, Carr expects the change will benefit everyone.

“Beer-to-go from breweries actually strengthens in-market sales because consumers are able to form a tighter connection with our brand,” he said. “The increased familiarity drives stronger sales both off- and on-premise, since they will still rely on grocery and liquor stores for most of their at-home beer needs.”

Carr added that walking out the door with some of their beer “adds a nice bow” to the overall experience of seeing the facility, meeting the team and enjoying the vibe of the company’s culture first hand.

Relying primarily on social media to let Community Brewing Co. fans know about the welcomed change, Carr did note that a few visitors have voiced their worry that it’s too good to be true. 

“Some of them wonder if this change in the law is temporary,” he said. “There is still enormous distrust of our political system and the drivers that affect laws.”

As the impact from HB 1545 continues to be measured by Texas’ craft beer industry, it’s clear that the hundreds of breweries across the state are eagerly taking advantage of their new Texas beer-to-go capability, and with the gratitude of customers across the country. 

Brewery owners are also looking forward to the end of lesser-known regulations, which are scheduled to sunset over the next two years thanks to the same piece of legislation.

Rules that make Texas one of only five states with a label approval process, in excess of federal obligations, will end in 2020.

Additionally, arbitrary complications that result from beers with an alcohol content above five percent will no longer be governed differently than beers with a lower percentage.

With their primary legislative goal now realized, DeBower expects his role for the next session will focus on saying “thank you” to the supporters who helped secure the win.

And, don’t be surprised if he encourages them to stop by Austin Beer Works to pick up some Peacemaker before heading back to their districts.  

Sid Miller’s social media is a cesspool of racism and idiocy

Sid Miller racist

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller made headlines again this week for posting something racist on social media.

In this particular instance, he read a Facebook post on Saturday, Nov. 9. The post accused the organizers of a Veteran’s Day parade in Stephenville, his hometown, of denying entry to a Confederate group.

When Miller saw the Facebook post he almost immediately responded: “get a rope.” After other Facebook users called Miller out for using racist slogans in relation to a group that celebrates the Confederacy, he downplayed his comment.

“Good grief people, it’s a joke,” Miller wrote. He also claimed, “get a rope” was a reference to a Pace salsa commercial.

The on-the-ground reality at the Stephenville Veteran’s Day Parade was less cut-and-dry than the Facebook post made it seem.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans were asked to take down Confederate flags in order to participate in the parade. Instead, the group decided to forgo participation altogether, according to Burton Smith, one of the parade’s coordinators.

“My understanding is that it would be inappropriate for the military to be involved in a parade with the Confederate flag flying,” Smith said.

However, Miller has never let nuance get in the way of reposting racist statements or misrepresenting the truth. Reform Austin rounded up some of Miller’s ‘greatest hits.’

From the time Miller reposted a meme calling for a nuclear attack on Muslim nations or the time he called Hillary Clinton the c-word on Twitter, it’s all here.

Miller’s predilections for the Confederacy is also well-known. In 2017, he issued a lengthy statement condemning the Six Flags amusement park company for removing the Confederate flag at its Texas location.

Sid Miller

Sam Johnson flew as a United States Air Force fighter pilot during t… he Korean War and the Vietnam War. Between the two wars he was a “Top Gun” instructor and a USAF Thunderbirds pilot.

Miller has also posted outright lies, like when he shared a photoshopped image of Whoppi Goldberg wearing an anti-Trump t-shirt.

Why Miller posted a photoshopped image instead of a real image of Goldberg in an anti-Trump shirt is anyone’s guess.

When Miller’s chief of staff Todd Smith was asked about the photo in 2018 he said that neither he nor Miller knew if the photo had been altered when it was posted on Facebook.

“We post hundreds of things a week. We put stuff out there. We’re like Fox News. We report, we let people decide,” Smith said. Apparently no one told Sid Miller that his Facebook page is like Fox News, because he said the exact opposite in 2016.

“I’m not a news source,” Miller said in an interview with KUT. “I think everyone needs to realize that Facebook is not always a reliable source if you’re wanting the factual news.”

Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that these will be the last false and/or racist things Sid Miller posts to his social media accounts.