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Lawmakers Slow to Deal With Threatened Loss of Federal Health Dollars

April 20, 2010

PHOENIX - Arizona lawmakers have yet to act on restoring funding for KidsCare, the state's health insurance program for children of the working poor. Because of the new federal health care law, elimination of KidsCare could cost the state $7 billion for its AHCCCS indigent health plan.

State House Democrats have proposed raising the needed $21 million for KidsCare by expanding the sales tax to cover extended warranties on such items as TV sets. Carol Stambaugh, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, says legislative leaders are wrong to ignore such a potential solution.

"It's simply careless and reckless to not do anything at this point. If this is an option to be able to fund the KidsCare so that we are able to maintain our efforts, then I think it's absolutely something that must be explored."

Governor Jan Brewer is joining a lawsuit against the feds, hoping to overturn the requirement that the state maintain its funding levels for federal health programs.

Kidscare, which covers about 38,000 Arizona children, is currently scheduled for elimination in less than two months.
Stambaugh says its elimination will cause a public health problem affecting everyone, because kids without health coverage will be going to school with everyone else's kids.

"They will be going to school sick. They may be going to school and not being able to have the immunizations required. Not only that, whenever they get very sick, they will be seeking their care at the emergency room."

Stambaugh says the result would be even more crowding in emergency rooms, and higher insurance premiums for people who have insurance.

Stambaugh acknowledges that even small tax increases are difficult to achieve in an election year. But she says the risk to the state's economy is too great to ignore.

"Whenever we're looking at the potential of losing $7 billion, we need to handle that issue, and then we can worry about elections later."

Dollars that the state spends on KidsCare are matched three-to-one by the federal government.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ