State Capitol News
8:27 am
Thu February 24, 2011

Legislative Panel Took First Step to Abolish State Health Care Program for the Poor

Phoenix, AZ – The state joined the federal Medicaid program in 1982, creating
the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. Since that time
enrollment has ballooned, in part after voters mandated to expand
eligibility, and in part because of the economy. There are
currently more than 1.3 million people enrolled. But the number
who actually got any care through AHCCCS last year is closer to
1.8 million. The legislation would scale that back -- sharply --
to maybe only 80,000 getting free care. That concerned Sen.
Kyrsten Sinema.

(I personally feel that we have a moral obligation and duty to
provide health care to the most vulnerable amongst us,
particularly children, the elderly, those with disabilities, and
those who cannot care for themselves.)

But Sen. Andy Biggs said the current program makes no sense.

(1.8 million Arizonans all can't be the most vulnerable in our
society. They just can't all be. I just don't know how we could
get up to about a third of our population being the most
vulnerable in our society.)

His plan COULD provide care for more than just the 80,000 he
considers the most vulnerable -- but at a cost. Biggs said the
state should impose premiums, deductibles and co-pays -- all
things now precluded because Arizona takes about $7 billion a
year in federal Medicaid funds. The move is getting a fight from
the Brewer administration. In prepared comments, AHCCCS director
Tom Betlach said the loss of those dollars would cripple the
health care system. He said doctors and nurses would leave the
state and some hospitals could close, leaving fewer care options
even for people who don't need state-paid health care. That
possibility concerned even supporters of the move like Sen. Don
Shooter.

(The rural hospitals are built on this, for better or for worse.
And we do need hospitals. And so I would like to see some form of
addressing that problem, I guess.)

The measure was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee
on an 8-5 vote. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.