Arizona Takes First Step to Restore Children’s Health Insurance

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By Matt Jewett, Children’s Action Alliance of Arizona

Not a lot of good news has come out of Arizona this year.  Amidst leading the country in job losses, selling our state Capitol to raise money (we’re leasing it back), and a divisive immigration debate gaining national attention, we also became the first state ever to eliminate our highly successful Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  Fortunately, federal health reform passed just days after Governor Brewer signed the bill eliminating KidsCare, but before the elimination had taken effect.  Since federal health reform requires states to maintain their CHIP programs, Arizona would have been out of compliance, and stood to lose the entire $7 billion a year we receive in federal Medicaid money.  As a result, the legislature and Governor restored KidsCare before the legislature adjourned.  This reversal is a lifeline for the nearly 34,000 children currently enrolled in KidsCare, who will not be dumped from their health insurance on June 15 as previously scheduled.

Children’s Action Alliance was active with our Bring Back KidsCare, taking to the radio and internet to convince Arizona’s voters and elected officials that KidsCare is a smart investment that helps children grow up strong and thrive.  This campaign showed that bringing back KidsCare was not only smart in light of health reform, but also the right thing to do.  Unfortunately, a KidsCare enrollment freeze has been in place since January 1, 2010.  Enrollment has already fallen by more than a quarter since the beginning of the year, and over 40,000 applications have been submitted for KidsCare that have not been processed due to the enrollment cap.  It is estimated that the majority of those children would be eligible for KidsCare if the enrollment freeze was lifted (read our press release or see the Arizona Republic story).  Should the freeze continue, enrollment will fall by more than half over the next year, and within five years, just 194 children would remain enrolled in KidsCare.  And while national health reform will provide additional help to families in 2014, four years is a lifetime for a child to wait.

The cost to open up KidsCare enrollment to all eligible children is $11 million, or less than $2 a year for every resident of the state.  In a budget 800 times that size, finding the money should not be difficult if our elected officials make children’s health the same priority that voters do.  Re-hiring laid off employees at the Arizona Department of Revenue could lead to the collection of money already owed to the state, more than paying for KidsCare.

Children’s Action Alliance will keep up the pressure to Bring Back KidsCare fully – so all children in our state can grow up healthy and ready to succeed.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by Guest Bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Children and Families.