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Brutal political fight to expand Medicaid was worth it


This year marks the fifth anniversary of Medicaid restoration in Arizona, when we stood among a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, health care providers and advocates, business leaders and patients to successfully extend health care access to more Arizonans.

Five years later, it’s worth remembering why we fought – and continue to fight – for this indispensable program known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System – AHCCCS.

Safety-net care for many

Greg Vigdor

Greg Vigdor

Few safety-net programs do more to improve quality of life and protect our most vulnerable citizens.

More than one in four Arizonans depend on AHCCCS, including over 817,000 kids. Nationally, research demonstrates children enrolled in Medicaid exhibit better physical health, higher rates of educational attainment, and better earnings as adults.

Unlikely faces of AHCCCS

You may not know this, but AHCCCS is also essential for the elderly. The program provides health care for three in five nursing home residents in Arizona.

Half of all Arizonans with disabilities use AHCCCS and more than two-thirds of long-term care spending under Medicaid goes for home- and community-based care. These services are not only life-sustaining, they improve the quality of life for these individuals. This is a better and, yes, less expensive alternative to institutional care.

Veterans and their families are another group you may not associate with AHCCCS. Many veterans don’t qualify for VA coverage, and others are unable to travel to a VA facility. Even for veterans who are eligible for VA benefits, their spouses and family members are not. AHCCCS fills the gap.

Program pays off

Consider: In 2013, Arizona hospitals – especially small facilities – were being financially crushed under the growing weight of emergency care provided to individuals without insurance. That year, more than $700 million in so-called uncompensated care was provided – totaling 8 percent of total operating budgets for hospitals statewide.

In 2018, these uncompensated care costs have dropped by more than half – easing one of the greatest financial threats that hospitals faced. Insured Arizonans have benefited, too, as there are fewer of these expenses to be cost-shifted onto their health premiums.

There’s more. Mental health services provided via AHCCCS are helping address our state’s disproportionately-high suicide rate. The program is even playing a key role in combatting the opioid crisis via improved access to addiction treatment.

Yes, the political fight of five years ago to restore and expand AHCCCS was brutal. But it was worth it.

Greg Vigdor is president & CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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