State Capitol News
9:27 am
Mon December 28, 2009

Health reform could hurt AHCCCS

Phoenix, AZ – The generosity of state residents to the working poor could end
up costing taxpayers here more money. Arizona Public Radio's
Howard Fischer explains.

Both the U.S. House and Senate have approved plans for health
reform. The common element is expansion of Medicaid to cover more
people. Only thing is, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment
System, this state's Medicaid plan, already provides coverage for
everyone below the federal poverty level, a figure higher than
most other states.

AHCCCS Director Tom Betlach said the Senate
version of the legislation has the federal government picking up
the entire cost for those who are newly eligible. But the wording
doesn't help Arizona. There are maybe 200,000 residents who have
been able to sign up under the more liberal standards that AHCCCS
has had all these years but have not. And now they will do so
because of the Congressional mandate that everyone have health
insurance.

"It's just a policy decision. Why are you punishing a state like
Arizona that pursued basically the policy that you're trying to
adopt? Does that make sense?"

He pegs the cost to Arizona taxpayers in the first seven years of
the program at $17 billion. By comparison, if Congress does
nothing to expand health coverage, the state will spend just
$15.4 billion over the same period. And if voters had never
expanded AHCCCS -- and Arizona was eligible for extra federal
dollars going to states with less generous programs -- the price
tag of that Senate bill over the same period would drop to just
$1.4 billion.