Funds allotted to provide health insurance to children of ‘working poor’ - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Funds allotted to provide health insurance to children of ‘working poor’

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Posted: Friday, April 6, 2012 4:36 pm | Updated: 8:02 am, Mon Apr 9, 2012.

Federal officials on Friday approved a deal that will funnel more than $400 million in local and federal funds into helping provide more care for the poor, including nearly 22,000 children.

The complex plan involves three hospital groups kicking in about $130 million of their own funds between May 1 and the end of 2013. But the bonus is that the federal Medicaid program will return more than $270 million.

Most of that will go back to three groups — the University of Arizona’s health care network, Maricopa Integrated Health System and Phoenix Children’s Hospital — to help pay for care for those without health insurance. That includes people who used to qualify for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, before Gov. Jan Brewer ordered cutbacks to help balance the budget.

But about $77 million will be made available to provide health insurance to children in families who earn too much to qualify for AHCCCS but are considered the working poor, with the federal government kicking in three-fourths of that amount.

The most immediate benefit will be to reopen enrollment into a version of the Kids Care program which also became a victim of 2010 budget cuts when Brewer ordered an enrollment freeze.

At that time there were close to 45,000 children in the program. Current enrollment is now below 12,000; the waiting list has swelled to 105,000.

Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson acknowledged that the plan will make only a small dent in that list, and that enrollment would still be below where it was when his boss trimmed the funds.

“The state can’t afford to do everything for everyone,” he said. And Benson said Arizona has no more available cash.

“So to the extent we can involve private industry and use private funds to draw down federal resources, that can really be a win-win,” he said.

Funding aside, not everyone who is on that Kids Care waiting list will be eligible.

The current program covers children in families with income up to twice the federal poverty level. That computes out to $38,180 a year for a family of three.

This temporary expansion is limited to those at 175 percent of the poverty level, of $33,408 for that same family of three.

AHCCCS spokeswoman Monica Coury said her agency will pick those to be enrolled from the list on the basis of how long they have been waiting.

When the governor first announced the proposal last fall, she said the funds would provide “a bridge to cover the children until 2014. That’s when the federal Affordable Care Act is supposed to kick in. Benson acknowledged that is the same law that Brewer and other governors have dubbed Obama-care and are trying to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to kill.

“Obama-care remains the law of the land,” he said. “We have to operate under the assumption that it will remain so.”

And what of Brewer’s bid to have the law voided?

“If the Affordable Care Act is struck down by the courts, and that certainly seems to be a possibility, then the state is going to have to revisit a host of issues at that time,” Benson said.

Brewer said she likes the plan because the financially strapped state does not have to kick in any money of its own.

“This is the kind of innovative collaboration that can help us address our most urgent health needs without blowing a hole in the state budget,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

She said the additional help is coming because of the “ingenuity” of the three hospital groups. And she also credited the Obama administration “in giving this initiative the green light.”

“It is truly the people of Arizona who will benefit most,” she said.

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