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Arizona Supreme Court refuses to hear Medicaid issue

The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday left intact an eligibility reduction expected to deny government-paid health care to more than 100,000 low-income people.

The court refused, without comment, to hear an appeal challenging the eligibility reduction. The reduction amounts to a partial enrollment freeze prohibiting new signups by childless adults.

Those currently enrolled can remain in the state’s Medicaid program known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

The enrollment reduction for childless adults was projected to save $500 million. Together with other changes to the program, it was projected to save $500 million and close about half of a $1 billion shortfall in the current state budget.

Lower courts ruled against a lawsuit challenging the eligibility reduction. Supporters and opponents of the change disagreed over whether the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer had legal authority to make it.

At issue was whether the change was barred by a constitutional protection for a decade-old voter-approved law that increased eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program.

The state Supreme Court has the final say on legal issues based on the Arizona Constitution, so the justices’ action leaves “no place else to go” on the voter-approval issue, said Tim Hogan, an attorney for the challengers.

Hogan, who expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court’s action, said the challengers are considering whether there are legal grounds to challenge the federal government’s acceptance of the eligibility reduction.

Brewer commended the state high court “for deciding not to hear this case that challenged the Constitutional authority of elected officials to manage the state’s budget.”

The changes to the Medicaid program were “difficult but necessary actions” because of the state’s budget troubles and rising Medicaid costs, she said.

Federal law does not mandate coverage of the childless adults, and federal officials said they could not block the reduction when Arizona included it in a reauthorization of the state’s program last fall.

Estimates on the size of the net reduction of childless adults from the program range from 100,000 to 150,000. That represents a net change as people leave the program for various reasons, such as getting a job with health coverage, and others don’t enroll or re-enroll.

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