PHOENIX — With no congressional action in sight, state Medicaid officials are preparing to implement a contingency plan to ensure that nearly 24,000 children of Arizona’s working poor do not lose their health-care coverage in December.
The money the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System has been using to keep the KidsCare program afloat since Congress cut off funding Oct. 1 is running out.
Those dollars were left over from the prior federal fiscal year, AHCCCS spokeswoman Heidi Capriotti said Tuesday.
So the plan now is to use other cash Arizona gets from the federal government for its separate traditional Medicaid plan to pay the premiums for children in the KidsCare program.
She said that will mean no interruption in care.
But Capriotti warned this is, at best, a short-term solution. She said there are only enough dollars in that Medicaid account to keep the KidsCare premiums paid into the first quarter of 2018.
If Congress does not come through by that point, it will be up to state lawmakers to decide whether to find the money elsewhere — Arizona’s KidsCare is budgeted at more than $9.3 million a month — or simply kill the program and leave the children without health coverage.
The reason this is an issue is the failure of Congress to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
It provides low-cost health insurance to children whose parents earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, about $40,840 for a family of three. Premiums are no more than $50 a month for a single child and $70 for multiple children.
It is designed to aid families who earn too much to qualify for the regular Medicaid program, where income is limited to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, but who may not earn enough to purchase private insurance for their children or don’t work for an employer that provides coverage.
The program has been around in some form since 1997. But Congress, distracted with debates over the future of the Affordable Care Act, did not meet the Oct. 1 deadline to provide the estimated $15 billion needed to care for the approximately 8.9 million children nationwide who are enrolled.
Efforts since then have become enmeshed with discussion of the total federal budget and tax cuts.
The House did approve an extension. But that has proven politically unacceptable to the Senate, which has yet to approve its own plan, because the House bill also includes cuts to some programs for the elderly.
In the interim, Arizona and other states have been able to use some federal Children’s Health Insurance Program money they did not use in the prior federal fiscal year.