Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sympathetic reception for bill allowing health insurance for exoneree dependents

This morning I was at the House Insurance Committee on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas (IPOT) along with Tim Cole's brother, Cory Session, and seven exonerees who showed up to support HB 361 by Anchia. The bill expands a program through which exonerees could purchase the same health insurance as TDCJ employees, but which has been underutilized because their spouses and dependents weren't also eligible.

Only nine exonerees have enrolled in the program, Chairman John Smithee said when he laid out the bill on behalf of Rep. Anchia (who had been called back to attend business in his district). But exoneree Charles Chatman explained that that many of them instead were paying for health insurance for spouses and dependents and going without themselves. If they were allowed to cover immediate family members, the committee was told, more of them would participate. Several other exonerees repeated that theme and indeed, after the hearing a number of the fellows said they planned to sign up to get insurance through the program immediately if and when the bill passed.

The committee seemed receptive and sympathetic and several of them came up afterwards to shake hands and introduce themselves to the exonerees. With seeming unanimity from the dais, Chairman Smithee pledged to vote the bill out of committee next week.

Afterward we had a chance to visit with Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts outside the House chamber to thank him for the committee's recommendation to reinstate funds cut last session from innocence clinics at the four public Texas law schools. We asked him to do what he could as teh bill moved forward to expand clinic funding to allow them to hire additional support staff to manage the nearly 3,000 requests for assistance per year these clinics receive.

I can't tell you how proud I am of all the exonerees who continue to show up at the Legislature to lobby on innocence-related bills. This one benefited their families, of course, but for some it's the second time they've been to the capitol since session started and all of them told me they'd be back when the policy bills start to come up. It's incredibly humbling and a great honor to be able to work with and on behalf of such folks.


Anonymous said...

I, a law abiding citizen, do not have health insurance. Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't just go to the local hospital and refuse to speak English, provide a foreign name, and escape whatever financial burdens such activities entail. Seems to be working for millions based on the rising cost of healthcare insurance.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Coupla things: First, you can just go to the hospital. Speak English, give your own name - the ERs won't turn you away. Or, like the exonerees (which means they are actually innocent, hence also "law abiding citizens) are requesting to do, you could always just pay for health insurance. The policies cost them around $400 per month, according to testimony at the hearing.

Finally, TDCJ is looking for corrections officers. Get a job with them and you'll get the same health benefits the exonerees are seeking to purchase.