Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Texas lawmakers demand details of new application process for disabled, elderly services

08:47 AM CDT on Tuesday, July 15, 2008

By KAREN BROOKS / The Dallas Morning News kmbrooks@dallasnews.com

AUSTIN – Skeptical legislators on Monday directed Health and Human Services Commission chief Albert Hawkins to bring them a detailed plan for how he would put nearly 1 million elderly and disabled Texans through a new application process that has been plagued with problems.

At a meeting of a House and Senate joint committee to discuss the embattled TIERS – the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, a private computerized system used to enroll clients in state programs – members grilled the commissioner about those plans and expressed anger that the state had made that decision without consulting them.

"I am absolutely shocked and dismayed at what has happened and cannot believe that there is such an obvious attempt" to get around legislative oversight, said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, former chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

The panel was formed in response to dismal performance by TIERS pilot programs rolled out in 2003, including high staff turnover as well as wait times for food stamp applications that were three times longer than the federal mandate.

House Human Services Committee Chairman Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, said it is "critical" that high standards are established before any expansions of the program.

Mr. Hawkins agreed to return with specific criteria that would have to be met before TIERS was expanded, saying the system is being improved and more workers are being hired.

The agency said Friday that it would add 953,000 elderly and disabled Medicaid patients to TIERS by September 2009, on top of the 288,000 food stamp recipients it already plans to add by then. Of the 3.8 million Medicaid, food stamp and welfare recipients in the HHS system, about 15 percent are on the TIERS system

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