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AHCCCS drains cash, stirs debate

Arizona’s Medicaid program has become both a budget headache and a political football, with its costly burgeoning enrollment and the possibility that national health care legislation will add even more red ink on the deficit-plagued state’s bottom line.

Enrollment in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment Program has soared in the past decade, thanks to the recession and an earlier voter-mandated lowering of income eligibility thresholds.

One in six Arizonans now is enrolled in AHCCCS.

Gov. Jan Brewer wants voters to roll back part of the eligibility increase, a proposal she included in her State of the State speech Jan. 11.

A declared candidate for election to a full term, the Republican governor already was jockeying with her likely Democratic challenger, Attorney General Terry Goddard, over whether Washington will force additional costs on the state.

Medicaid is no stranger to controversy in Arizona, with its largely conservative bent throughout most of the second half of the 20th century.

Only when its counties were bowing under the burden of providing health care for indigents did Arizona in 1982 become the last state to join Medicaid, which was created in 1965.

However, by 2000, the state’s now more moderate electorate overwhelmingly approved an initiative to lower the income eligibility threshold. Funding was to come from the state’s share of a national settlement with tobacco companies but also the state’s general fund as a backup.

Critics predicted that the backup funding would have to be tapped, and it has. The current budget includes $1.2 billion for AHCCCS, a 13 percent share of the general fund.

Brewer projects the state’s cost at $1.5 billion in the fiscal year beginning July 1, and that’s without any costs from eligibility expansions contemplated in the pending national health care legislation.

“That’s money we simply don’t have,” she said.

Brewer proposed asking voters to roll back the 2000 eligibility expansion to levels covered by settlement money, a change that would affect 300,000 people.

“Contrary to what voters were told, there is no such thing as free health care,” she said.

Democratic legislators say a rollback would mean that many Arizonans would be deprived of care.

“I vomited the first time I heard it,” said Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia, a Tucson Democrat.

Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, called Brewer’s proposal a bow to reality given the state’s current and projected shortfalls.

“There’s a limit how much we can do,” he said.

Even before Brewer announced her proposal, Medicaid was the subject of partisan skirmishing between Brewer and Goddard.

She called on him to join other states’ attorneys general questioning the legality of a provision in the U.S. Senate’s health care bill to exempt Nebraska from added costs of expanding Medicaid eligibility.

Goddard said it’s premature to consider legal action to challenge the Nebraska provision because it hasn’t been enacted. He instead invited Brewer to co-sign a joint letter calling the provision unfair and urging the state’s congressional delegation to oppose it.

Brewer’s response on Monday was to denounce Goddard in her address for failing to “to defend Arizona against this infringement of states’ rights.”

2 comments

  1. I don’t know how they can decide who lives and who dies. I am a diabetic and my husband has A-Fib a heart condition. We are on AHCCCS since 9-1-2009 7 months. We both had good paying jobs and insurance.Then, out of the blue with the economy we are on AHCCCS and unemployment. Now we make too much on unemployment so they are kicking us off the end of this month. Our medications are $791.00 per month.We have some tough choices to make. A roof over our head or medications. The state of Arizona has determined who will live and who will die. Their selection: all people employed with insurance will make it and all wealthy people who can afford healthcare either by paying cash or buying individual policies (of course they can’t have any pre-existing conditions) This will eliminate all older, and younger sickly people who happen to be poor.
    Our lawmakers have come to selecting the type of populations they want in our state.
    Maybe its time we are more selective of our lawmakers!

  2. There are too many people on AHCCCS, plain and simple. People who play the system to in order to hide income or assets in order to qualify. Hell go into any gentlemen’s club in Phoenix and all the girl’s working are on AHCCCS but are bringing home over a grand on a good night. Arizona has a problem, EVERYONE is on public assistance. I say take it all away and see what happens. Maybe I’m just lucky I have an employer who pays 100% of my health insurance, and of course working retail through a major recession I’m lucky to still have a job…oh yeah maybe I have job because I didn’t just take a job from some fly by night company. Honestly I NEED health insurance, without it I’d be paying over $300 bucks a month for a single prescription, so I work my *** off instead of waiting for someone else to take care of my needs for me. I mean yeah I could quit my job, go back to school and let the state pay for my meds, but I have never taken government assistance for anything aside from Pell Grants, government subsidized student loans, and a state sponsored scholarship. I’ve been flat broke before also, I’ve lost everything a few times. Are there people who need AHCCCS…YES…the problem is too many people who are on it shouldn’t be on it. I’m tired of paying for everyone else’s way in this world. Even if they just drug tested everyone who was on AHCCCS and declined everyone who came up dirty that would probably knock out 50% of the people on it. And to the person who commented before me, I have a simple solution for you, get a job at Wal-Mart (they are usually hiring) that gets you off unemployment, and making a small enough ammount of money to qualify for AHCCCS. Another option is to look at how you are living, if you are collecting unemployment you should be downsizing your life as it is, so maybe a smaller house, or cheaper apartment should be what you do. I mean you are living of other people’s money for basically nothing right?

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