There is no denying that our health care system – both in Texas and the nation as a whole – is in need of substantial reform. But expanding the SCHIP program is a big step toward universal health care – the wrong direction.

When President Obama reauthorized the SCHIP program, he allowed for states to expand their eligibility requirements from 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level to up to 300 percent. Expanding any government health care program increases the financial obligations of the state of Texas, not to mention the federal government’s control over your health care.

Extending CHIP benefits to families that make up to $66,000 per year would morph the program away from its original purpose – providing health insurance to children of the working poor – into an expensive entitlement for the middle class. Later this spring, our legislature will consider bills that would implement that expansion in Texas. Such an action would be a costly mistake.

Texas’ Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins testified recently that expanding CHIP eligibility will require an additional $127.6 million in state funds over the next biennium. Not only will costs rise for this program but so will the caseloads. Rather than expanding eligibility, the legislature should focus on enrolling children who are already eligible. This year, more than 170,000 children projected to be eligible are not covered.

Texas legislators should hold true to their values and convictions. Instead of putting more Texans onto taxpayer-funded programs like CHIP, they should instead look for other ways to provide access to health care. Increasing competition to provide more accessible choices to Texans is a better option than expanding a governmental program. Our legislature needs to be mindful of our state’s long-term budget picture and their principles of limited government when this issue comes to a vote in the coming months.

– Andrea Whitman