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Ariz. official says decision due on Medicaid cut

Gov. Jan Brewer’s request for a federal waiver to suspend Medicaid coverage for 280,000 adults to help balance the state budget should be decided before it is supposed to take effect later this year, a state official said Tuesday.

A waiver already on the books allows the program to run in its current form until Sept. 30, said Tom Betlach, director of the state’s Medicaid program, known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

That means the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will have until Oct. 1 to consider the proposed reduction sought by Brewer, Betlach told a Senate committee hearing on his agency’s budget.

Betlach was responding to an assertion by Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix, a critic of the proposed eligibility cut, that Arizona might not get a decision on the new waiver request in time.

Talks between Arizona and HHS officials on the issue have begun, Betlach said, adding the federal agency understands the difficult decision the state must make.

The HHS recently told The Associated Press the agency would not discuss the Arizona waiver request before acting on it. No timeline was released.

Brewer’s proposed budget for the state fiscal year beginning July 1 includes the Medicaid eligibility cut to help close a projected $1.1 billion shortfall.

Next year will be the fourth fiscal year in which Arizona has had to close shortfalls due to the recession and the collapse of the homebuilding industry.

Brewer in January requested a federal waiver to allow the state to suspend Medicaid coverage for about a fifth of the state program’s enrollment.

The request asks HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to allow the state to keep its Medicaid programs at early 2010 levels until the expansion of Medicaid takes effect in 2014 until federal health care reform.

Additional federal funding previously helped Arizona and other states pay for their Medicaid programs, but that funding provided under the federal stimulus program is drying up.

The proposed Medicaid cut drew fire from Democrats and support from Republicans during the hearing Tuesday.

Sinema said it faces a certain legal challenge on grounds that it circumvents a 2000 voter-approved law mandating expansion of AHCCCS eligibility.

Republicans contend the 2000 law’s wording allows the expansion to be rolled back to fit available funding.

“People have to start taking responsibility for their own health care because we don’t have enough money,” Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said.

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