| The Republic | azcentral.com
Supporters of the children’s health insurance program KidsCare introduced a bill this year to eliminate a requirement that the state freeze enrollment if federal funding for the program drops by as little as a penny.
The proposal aims to give lawmakers a chance to decide whether they want to make up any of the federal funding loss, rather than automatically halt the program.
KidsCare provides health care coverage for children from lower-income families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to get help under the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
In 2010, the Legislature froze enrollment in KidsCare, citing funding constraints.
When the federal government in 2016 offered to pick up the full tab for the program (no state matching funds required), Arizona balked. And it took some last-minute maneuvers to get the votes needed to restore the program, which had dwindled to 538 kids after a six-year freeze.
When enrollment reopened, the numbers spiked. As of April 1, there are 27,863 children in KidsCare. Supporters say the program is key to keeping kids out of the child-welfare system by reducing the stress families experience if they can’t afford to take their child to a doctor.
But House Bill 2127, to eliminate an enrollment freeze if federal funding dips, is stalled. Here’s why:
- It’s a budget bill. That means it gets held up until lawmakers hammer out a budget agreement that will pass muster with Gov. Doug Ducey. Even though the bill doesn’t seek money, the projection is that federal funding will drop by about $5 million in 2020, which would trigger the automatic freeze.
- Bad blood left over from the 2016 deal. Part of the pitch to lawmakers was the hold-harmless effect of the automatic freeze were funding to drop. Now, KidsCare proponents are trying to dump that provision. They say if and when a funding cut happens, lawmakers should be able to debate it and decide whether to fill the gap. Senate President Steve Yarbrough, who opposed the 2016 deal, isn’t buying the new approach.
- Doubts about whether it’s really needed. If the automatic freeze kicks in, lawmakers can still reverse that by dipping into the state’s general fund and paying for the program, said Sen. John Kavanagh, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He allowed HB 2127 to be heard, but only for discussion purposes. Since that March 27 hearing, there’s been no movement on the bill.
The inaction prompted the Children’s Action Alliance, the biggest proponents of the program, to urge that Ducey push for a vote on the bill.
They noted Ducey touted his administration’s success in keeping the program going while Congress was debating whether to renew the children’s health insurance program.
“Now that Congress has done their job, we call on Governor Doug Ducey to take the lead for Arizona to prevent another automatic freeze that will shut thousands of children out of the health care coverage they need,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of the alliance.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.
About this report
Keeping kids healthy is just one of the many complex issues of child welfare in Arizona. A three-year grant from the Arizona Community Foundation supports in-depth research on the topic at The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com.
Are you part of the child-welfare system? We want to understand your story. Go to childwelfare.azcentral.com.