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House panel OKs bill restoring children’s health insurance

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A bill to provide health insurance for thousands of Arizona children cleared a hurdle Tuesday as lawmakers unanimously passed a measure to lift a freeze on a program covering low-income kids.

The coverage known nationally as the Children’s Health Insurance Program at one time enrolled more than 63,000 Arizona children whose parents earned between $27,000 and $40,000 for a family of three.

Now, less than 1,000 children are enrolled, and Arizona is left as the only state without an active program after former Gov. Jan Brewer froze it in 2010.

As a result, Arizona has ranked 49th in the country for its rate of uninsured children for the last five years, according to research from Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

But a proposal by Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, would unfreeze enrollment in the program now known as KidsCare. “This is such an important bill for the children in the working poor classification,” Cobb said.

The KidsCare program would cover children in families with incomes from 138 to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The federal government would pick up the full cost of the insurance at least through 2017.

The measure also includes language that allows the state to suspend the program if the federal government stops funding it.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said the governor’s office is still reviewing the measure, but it has concerns about its fiscal impact on ongoing state revenues and on the flexibility to make future budget decisions.

The House Committee on Health passed House Bill 2309 on a 5-0 vote Tuesday. Cobb said the measure still needs a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee before it can undergo a standard review and make it to a House vote.

Elizabeth McKenna, doctor and co-owner of Healing Hearts Pediatrics, testified during that hearing that she sees children who don’t have health insurance because their parents make too much for the state’s Medicaid program but not enough for the federal marketplace or private health insurance.

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