Will Arizona Be the Only State to Freeze KidsCare – Again?

By: Siman Qaasim, Director of Health Policy, Children’s Action Alliance

KidsCare is Arizona’s version of the national Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP was created with broad bipartisan support in 1997 and allows working families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid/AHCCCS to purchase high-quality, affordable health coverage for their children up to age eighteen. In Arizona, our KidsCare program mirrors the kid-friendly benefits of Medicaid/AHCCCS where parents can choose their own doctor and dentist and it covers specialty care to eyeglasses and hospital visits.

Arizona froze enrollment in KidsCare in 2010 and became the only state without a functioning CHIP program until the legislature and Governor Ducey lifted the freeze in 2016 with broad bipartisan support.  At one point during the freeze, the waitlist for KidsCare grew to almost 100,000 children. Today, about 35,000 children are covered through CHIP, but this coverage is once again at risk.

When Arizona reopened KidsCare enrollment in 2016, the state was able to sustain KidsCare with 100 percent of the costs paid by our federal tax dollars. Federal funding for CHIP was recently renewed by Congress for an additional 10 years and the federal dollar match levels for states is set to decrease slightly on October 1st of this year. Unlike any other state, Arizona has an automatic trigger to freeze our CHIP program when that happens. The federal match rate for KidsCare is set to go down from 100 percent to 90 percent this year and decrease once more to 79 percent in 2020, where it will remain.

In his most recent budget proposal, Governor Ducey asked for enough state dollars to keep KidsCare open and to remove the statutory trigger for an automatic enrollment freeze. According to the Governor, the state cost for KidsCare next fiscal year will be $1.6 million to keep the program open.

From a public policy perspective, KidsCare makes a lot of sense. To begin with, the parents of KidsCare kids utilize the preventative benefits in KidsCare at very high rates, which helps prevent unnecessary emergency department visits. Research shows that children who have access to Medicaid and CHIP miss fewer school days, do better in school overall, are more likely to graduate high school and become more economically independent adults.  This year, over a dozen sheriffs and chiefs of police signed a letter to the legislature supporting KidsCare, because KidsCare puts children in touch with mental health services to keep them healthy and safe and away from a life of crime. Keeping KidsCare makes sense for Arizona; let’s make sure the legislature passes a budget with KidsCare in it this year.

About Siman:
Siman is a well-seasoned health policy professional, with a background in developing and administering community health programs. She is the former administrator for the Office of School Health and Wellness initiatives at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. Siman’s career has taken her all over the world, from working in international policy analysis in Washington, D.C. to Nassau, Bahamas as a director of health and safety. Siman is an alumnus of Valley Leadership Class 35 and holds a master’s degree in business administration from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

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