The state of Arizona was hit especially hard by the recession and responded by imposing the largest spending cuts in the state’s history. Among these was a freeze in KidsCare, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Arizona remains the only state with an enrollment freeze in place and a new report we just released with the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured highlights its impact on enrollment and families.
- As of July 15th, over 100,000 children were on the waiting list for KidsCare coverage, which continues to grow at a rate of 10,000 children per month.
- Since the freeze was put in place, enrollment in KidsCare has fallen by more than 60 percent from 46,886 in December 2009 to 17,642 in July 2011. Many of these children were able to secure coverage through Medicaid as their family income declined.
- Arizona estimated that the freeze would save the state $12.9 million in fiscal year 2011. At the same time, the state was expected to forego $41 million in federal matching funds as a result.
The KidsCare enrollment freeze has limited affordable coverage options for families who may be losing jobs and employer-sponsored coverage as well as created a new coverage gap for children moving off of Medicaid due to increases in income.
Gaites Klein is just one of the children who may get caught in the middle as a result of the freeze. He was 12 when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, fortunately, he was enrolled in KidsCare and able to get the surgery he needed to remove it. His mother Valarie had job that depended on the real estate industry and found herself unemployed when the recession hit. When her unemployment benefits ran out, Gaites became eligible and was automatically enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program. However, the freeze in KidsCare has created a catch-22 for the Klein family – if Valarie finds work and earns too much for Gaites to continue to receive coverage through Medicaid, she will be unable to re-enroll him in KidsCare. Valarie would love to return to work but is concerned about losing the security of knowing her son’s high cost medical needs will be met.
Gaites himself recognizes the importance of his health coverage, noting:
“Health can change in a split second. It can change in a car accident, sports injury or unpreventable health condition. For me, I went into an MRI as a healthy child without any physical problems before in my life other than a couple of recent migraines and came out as a brain tumor victim. I am still not well. I suffer every day with the loss of all hormones and have to take quite expensive hormone replacement medication for the rest of my days I am allotted. If I don’t have the proper insurance to pay for my medications, I could possibly die.”
Will other states follow Arizona on this misguided path? Under the stability protections in the Affordable Care Act, it appears that other states are currently prevented from implementing enrollment freezes or caps. Without this protection, more families could find themselves without affordable coverage options for their children.
(Note: Thanks to Matt Jewett with the Children’s Action Alliance for his help connecting us with Arizona families. )