By a 16-12 vote, the state Senate passed the KidsCare health insurance program today, sending it to Gov. Doug Ducey.
The vote came less than a day after the House revived the measure and approved it.
Thwarted in earlier attempts, Republican supporters of the program to provide health insurance to the children of the working poor outmaneuvered their own leadership Thursday night to have the measure approved by the House.
Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, attached language to restore the program in Arizona to legislation dealing with vouchers that allow parents to use public dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools.
There was a political component to that choice: The change in SB 1457 is wanted by Republican legislative leadership — the same leadership that blocked efforts to put the restoration of KidsCare into the just-approved budget.
That gambit succeeded as the House attached the amendment and approved the bill with 38 votes, as 14 Republicans joined with all 24 Democrats to override the GOP leaders.
But hurdles remain.
Senate President Andy Biggs has refused to give a hearing to a previously approved stand-alone version of the measure which could make up to 30,000 children eligible for health insurance. It remains to be seen what Biggs will do with the now-amended version of SB 1457.
And even if it survives the Senate, Gov. Doug Ducey has refused to say whether he supports the program.
“He’s open to any good idea that’s fiscally responsible and works within the total budget framework,” press aide Daniel Scarpinato said Thursday night.
KidsCare, formally known as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, provides health care for children of families whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid. For a family of three, that cap is about $27,700 a year.
House Majority Whip David Livingston, R-Peoria, decried the fact that the program covers those up to twice the federal poverty level. That is about $40,100 for that family of three — but nearly $82,000 for a family of eight, the highest level on federal charts, a figure Livingston said does not qualify as needy.
But Rep. Chris Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, said there are people at those income levels who cannot afford health insurance. He said that’s because anyone working at a job where health insurance is available does not qualify for the subsidized health care under federal Affordable Care Act.
Ackerley, a high school physics teacher, said he supports repeal of “ObamaCare” and wants a better system.
“But in the meantime I have to go back to school in the fall and I have to look kids in the eye and say, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t see a doctor in a timely manner because our state will not reinstate or drop the freeze on KidsCare,” he said.
Arizona joined the federal program in 2001 under Gov. Jane Hull, a Republican. She said the federal match — three dollars for every state dollar — made it a good deal.
But it was that state cost that resulted in lawmakers freezing enrollment in 2010 during the recession.
At that time there were 45,000 children in the program; now there are fewer than 1,000. And Arizona is the only state without a functioning program.
Cobb said there’s no cost to the state to lifting the freeze. She pointed out that Congress has agreed to pay the full cost of KidsCare through at least 2017.
She conceded that funding beyond that is not assured. But Cobb inserted a provision that allows the state to once again stop enrolling children, just as it did in 2010.
With no cost — at least not now — the opponents were stuck with philosophical arguments.
“One thing I am fearful that is getting lost on our culture is personal responsibility,” said Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert. He said putting families into a situation where they get such help teaches children “a path to dependency.”
Cobb said there is personal responsibility in KidsCare. She said the program has deductibles and includes co-pays based on a family’s ability to pay.
Others were not convinced.
“This particular piece of legislation, in my opinion, takes away the concept of America,” complained Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert.
“It doesn’t matter how many times we say, ‘It’s for the kids,’ A government that can take from people and give to other people through the force of the police force can take everything from us.”
And Farnsworth, like Livingston, decried the eligibility limits, citing the figures for a family of eight of close to $82,000.
“I don’t care whether you have 12 or 14 kids,” he said.
Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said he sees a downside of providing health care to children of families at those income levels.
“We’re giving them a benefit that will lead them not to want to get out of the income bracket in which this is provided,” he said.
But Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, said that $82,000 figure is less than what state law considers low income for scholarships, funded with tax credits, to allow students to go to private and parochial schools.