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Arizona needs KidsCare – not just half of it

KidsCare offers affordable health insurance for children in working families. It has been an Arizona success story for more than 10 years, helping thousands of children grow up healthy and strong. But a year ago, Gov. Jan Brewer and our legislative leaders began cutting KidsCare.

First they eliminated coverage for 10,000 parents. Then, in January, Brewer put a freeze on new enrollment for children into KidsCare. Due to the freeze, more than 100 uninsured children are being turned away from the health care they need every day.

Just last month, Brewer signed a state budget into law that will completely eliminate KidsCare on June 15. That means 47,000 children going uninsured. That means more children missing school, more parents missing work, more childhood illnesses going untreated, and more expensive emergency room visits. That means more jobs lost from our health care sector. That means our federal tax dollars going to help kids in other states. And that means more families bankrupt due to large medical bills they can’t afford to pay.

The good news is that the new federal health reform law is causing our state Legislature to reconsider their mistake. That law removes $7 billion in federal funds from Arizona’s health care system each year if we cut back on KidsCare after the date the law was signed.

Now the Legislature is considering a bill that would take the first step in restoring KidsCare. It appropriates $9 million to cover the children who are currently enrolled. That’s a wonderful step, but it only gets us halfway there. That bill would leave the enrollment freeze in place and continue to turn away more than 100 uninsured kids every day — kids with asthma, kids with disabilities, kids with special needs and life-threatening illnesses. KidsCare enrollment would shrink by more than half by next year.

Bringing KidsCare halfway back is like giving your sick child only half the medicine he needs to get better. It’s not good parenting, and it’s not good policy.

With only $11 million more in state funds, Arizona could really bring back KidsCare. That’s a cost of less than 1 percent of the state budget that brings in more than $40 million in federal funds and very large returns to our families and our economy.

There are at least three easy ways to pay for bringing KidsCare all the way back without raising taxes or cutting something else. One is to accept the offer of First Things First and ask voters to approve using $60 million of the First Things First tobacco tax money to temporarily pay the state’s share of KidsCare.

A second option is to use additional federal dollars that will come in when Congress approves an extension of extra health care matching funds for all states.

A third is to restore to the Arizona Department of Revenue the more than 100 auditor and collector staff positions that have been cut so they can collect taxes that are already owed to the state. The department estimates that each dollar spent on an auditor brings in $15 in collections.

Governor Brewer and state lawmakers, it’s time to stand up for children and pay for KidsCare.

— Dana Wolfe Naimark is president and CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance.

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