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State Won't Seek Federal Funds to Prolong Health Program

In its latest rejection of federal dollars, Texas will not reapply for a grant to keep operating a program that helps consumers enroll in health coverage and file complaints and appeals against health plans.

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The Texas Department of Insurance will not reapply for a federal grant to prolong a program designed to help Texans navigate the health insurance market, agency spokesman John Greeley confirmed on Friday.

The state-run Consumer Health Assistance Program was established in 2010 under federal health reform to help consumers enroll in health coverage and file complaints and appeals against health plans. Texas CHAP staffers have given public service announcements, made field presentations and taken calls on a hotline that helped an estimated 9,000 Texans last year.

In September 2010, Texas was awarded a one-year grant of $2.8 million to start the program. That money lasted through this past April, Greeley said. Texas would have been eligible to apply for an additional $128,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this year, according to a letter sent to TDI by 20 health-focused organizations. 

Greeley said in an emailed statement that TDI will continue providing some of the consumer program's services, but will not apply for the funding. “TDI continues to assist consumers with health insurance claims and appeals, answer questions, assist consumers in shopping for coverage, and provide general information about health insurance options,” he said. 

But some argue not applying for federal money that's available — particularly given the state's budget crunch — doesn't make sense. 

“To keep the doors closed now, at a time when so much is in flux with people's health insurance rights and benefits, is unwise and unnecessary, given that the new funding is available,” Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said in a news release.

While a small sum by comparison, Texas’ decision not to apply for the HHS grant is the latest example of the state turning down federal dollars. Texas in 2009 rejected $556 million from the federal stimulus package for unemployment insurance and didn’t apply for up to $700 million in 2010 for education grants under the Race to the Top competition. Texas is also losing more than $30 million in annual federal funding for the Women’s Health Program over the state's decision to exclude Planned Parenthood from the program. 

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