KidsCare Revived In Arizona House Despite Republican Leadership's Misgivings

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Friday, May 6, 2016 - 8:37am
(Photo courtesy of Child Action Alliance via Twitter)
The nonprofit Child Action Alliance of Arizona is pushing the restoration of KidsCare.

Republican supporters of a program that would provide health insurance to Arizona children of the working poor outmaneuvered their own leadership Thursday night get approval from the state House.

KidsCare serves children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid-- about $27,700 a year for a family of three. Arizona had a KidsCare program for a decade before enrollment was frozen during the recession to save state dollars. Now the federal government is willing to pick up the entire cost, at least through 2017.

The House had approved restoration of KidsCare earlier this year, only to have Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, refuse to give the bill a hearing. And GOP leaders would not make it part of the just-enacted budget. So Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, attached the issue to a bill Republicans want, one dealing with vouchers to send children to private and parochial schools.

Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, decried the fact that KidsCare covers families making up to twice the federal poverty level. That's about $40,100 for a family of three, and nearly $82,000 for a family of eight.

"How many of you in this room feel like if you're making $82,000 a year, that is a poor person, that is a person who needs a handout, that is a person who needs to get on a welfare program?" Petersen asked.

But Cobb said there are people at those income levels who cannot afford health insurance. One reason is that anyone working at a job where health insurance is available does not qualify for subsidized health care under the federal Affordable Care Act.

"They are in the middle, between a rock and a hard place right now," Cobb said. "And they cannot afford the insurance that is available to them right now on the Affordable Care Act and what is on the exchange.

Rep. Chris Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, a high school physics teacher, said the Affordable Care Act should be replaced by a better system, but, "in the meantime I have to go back to school in the fall and I have to look kids in the eye and say, 'I'm sorry, you can't see a doctor in a timely manner because our state will not reinstate or drop the freeze on KidsCare.' And that is personal to me."

Arizona joined the federal KidsCare program in 2001 under Gov. Jane Hull, a Republican. She said the federal match-- three dollars for every state dollar-- made it a good deal. But it was that state cost that resulted in lawmakers freezing enrollment in 2010 during the recession. At that time, there were 45,000 children in the program; now there are fewer than 1,000.

Arizona is now the only state without a functioning health insurance program for kids.

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said providing health care to children is a kind, loving thing to do. However, he wasn't sure about restoring KidsCare-- "When you run charity through government you get horrible results. You get dependence. You get lack of economic opportunities."

And he said the people who benefit-- who he didn't consider to be "needy"-- would not be inspired to make more money because the government would provide their benefits.

But Cobb said she sees the measure as simply giving people a leg up. "Eventually I hope that they're getting better jobs," she said. "And eventually I hope they can be above that level. But right now now those people aren't."

Cobb stressed that KidsCare does not insure the parents but only their children. And she said there is some personal responsibility because there are deductibles and co-pays based on a family's ability to pay.

Thursday night's vote does not guarantee KidsCare will be restored. Senate supporters still need to find a way to get Biggs to allow a vote. And even if it survives the Senate, Gov. Doug Ducey has refused to say whether he'll sign the program back into law.

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