House Republicans kill attempt to expand insurance program for children

House Republicans kill attempt to expand insurance program for children

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The House voted along party lines Thursday to defeat a Democratic attempt to expand KidsCare eligibility by amending a bill funding the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Scottsdale, proposed increasing the KidsCare eligibility threshold from 200% to 250% of the poverty level, raising it from under $53,000 to under $66,250 a year for a family of four. She said the expansion would cost the state $12.5 million a year and bring in $47 million in federal matching funds.

“We have an exciting opportunity today to help 30,000 Arizona children access quality health care that is affordable for their families,” Butler said.

Butler said Arizona has, or at least had before the Covid pandemic, the third-highest rate of uninsured children in the country. Butler has been pushing KidsCare expansion for several years but has been unable to get a committee hearing on a standalone bill; she tried to add the same amendment to the bill in committee earlier this year but it was rejected on a party-line vote. 

SB1096 will provide a supplemental appropriation to the tune of $27 million in spending authority for KidsCare as well as authorizing the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to spend $3 billion for adjustments in funding formula requirements and implementation of 2020 legislation to collect an assessment on hospital revenues and increase Medicaid reimbursement payments.

Republicans said making changes to the bill could put its passage at risk, and that if it doesn’t pass, then  the more than 2 million Arizonans who rely on the state health care program now, including the 50,000 insured under KidsCare now, could see their coverage put in jeopardy as of April 1.

“Unfortunately this is one of those situations where we have a budgetary issue that we are asking for expenditure authority for the $3 billion that will be going to AHCCCS and to our hospitals,” said Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear. “This is not the time or place for policy changes with a budgetary situation.”

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said that Butler’s amendment had an emergency clause and the House could suspend rules to get it on Ducey’s desk as quickly as possible.

“The sky is not falling,” he said.

After the Committee of the Whole rejected Butler’s amendment on a voice vote, she tried to amend the committee report to include the expansion, but the House voted 29-31 against this. The House then voted 34-26 later Thursday to pass the bill, with three Democrats joining the Republicans to advance it and the rest voting “No.”

Republicans said they found it “perplexing,” as Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, put it, that the Democrats were voting against funding the existing health care program for children and the poor. Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, told his colleagues that a “No” vote was the equivalent of voting against coverage for poor and minority children in his district and that they shouldn’t have the mentality that they will “take your marbles and go home” if a vote doesn’t go the way they want. The Democrats said they support the underlying program but were disappointed that the House was refusing to expand it.

“We had an opportunity to add to this bill, to improve this bill to provide health care for 30,000 Arizona children, and we failed to do that,” Butler said. “We failed to act in a pandemic when we had the financial ability to do so. We simply said no.”