An influential legislator says Arizona should eliminate its Medicaid program because neither the cash-short state nor the debt-ridden federal government can afford it.
“We’ve built our health care infrastructure on an unsustainable model,” Sen. Andy Biggs said. The Senate Appropriations Committee chaired by Biggs is scheduled Tuesday to consider a bill he proposed to eliminate the state’s Medicaid program.
Under the bill, the program, known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, would be replaced with a much-smaller program funded only by the state.
Arizona, now in the fourth year of a budget crisis brought on by the Great Recession and the housing industry’s collapse, get about two-thirds of its funding for AHCCCS from the federal government.
“That money is not there. It is in forms of bonds and IOUs, so we’re taking money from our future generation to pay for current year medical services,” Biggs said.
He cited the federal government’s debt and AHCCCS’ enrollment of 1.3 million low-income people, or roughly one of every five state residents.
Biggs’ committee is dominated by fiscal conservatives like him, but it’s unclear how far his legislation could go.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has suggested dropping eligibility for approximately 250,000 people next fall to help close a projected $1.1 billion budget shortfall.
She did not state a firm position when asked Tuesday about Biggs’ bill.
However, she said she wants to protect care for the million or so people who would be left on the program if her proposed eligibility suspension is approved as part of the next state budget.
“The bottom line is I believe we need to have a large debate on that issue. Certainly I’m going to work hard to protect the 1 million that are on AHCCCS,” Brewer said.
Prospects for Brewer’s own proposal advanced last week when federal Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Arizona has leeway to implement Brewer’s proposed eligibility reduction on Oct. 1 if the proposal is part of the state’s application for routine reauthorization for the state program.
Health care advocates have said that just Brewer’s proposed eligibility reduction — let alone a full repeal — would deprive people of needed care and hurt the health care industry and more broadly the state’s economy.
Biggs said his proposed state-only program would likely serve only 75,000 people at most, likely the seriously mentally ill and people requiring long-term care.
Brewer’s AHCCCS director Tom Betlach , told a House committee last month that full repeal would cost the state approximately $7 billion in annual funding. And it would leave the state without enough money to provide care for anybody other than people receiving long-term care, Betlach said.
Elimination, Betlach said, “is not really a viable option.”
Texas officials reached the same conclusion when lawmakers in that state broached the idea of repealing Texas’ Medicaid program because of budget troubles.