Arizona is set to join the rest of the nation in offering a federal health insurance program for low-income children after it was pushed through the Legislature late last week, then receiving Governor Doug Ducey's immediate pledge to sign it.
The program, which will be called KidsCare in Arizona, will be the state's version of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program that has been frozen since 2010. At that time, it was closed due to a state budget crunch. The program is expected to offer insurance to 30,000 children of parents who earn between 138% and 200% of the federal poverty line, with no associated cost to the state until 2017, reports Bob Christie for The Washington Times.
Not everyone approved of the program. Opponents argued that if the program were to be reinstated, low-income families would become too dependent on handouts. They added that the Affordable Care Act was meant to cover families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, which amounts to about $27,700 per year for a family of three, and pushed back against the argument that the federal government would be covering the entire cost by noting the large federal deficit, reports Mary Jo Pitzl for AZ Central.
"We will see the negative consequences happen, because we cannot live our lives on borrowed dollars, we will have to face that sooner or later," said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. "And our grandchildren will be the ones to face it and will be the ones who suffer, because we cannot sustain what we are doing."
House Majority Whip David Livingston did not approve of the program, arguing against its offering of coverage for families who make up to twice the federal poverty level. While that amounts to about $40,100 for a family of three in the state, it increases to roughly $82,000 for a family of eight, which Livingston does not believe qualifies as needy.
Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Ackerley maintained that people who live at those income levels cannot afford health insurance. He argued that those who hold jobs which offer health insurance do not qualify for the subsidized health care available under the federal Affordable Care Act.
At the same time, one of the five Senate Republicans who had approved of the measure, Sen. Bob Worsley, said that it was important to ensure that all children receive medical care.
"These are children who need health care, who are in the most needy situation," Worsley said. "And at least currently, this is not costing us anything here in the state. And so I think it made sense and I was passionate about making sure we got it for those sick kids."
The bill was eventually passed when it was added to a bill in the House that dealt with vouchers that allow parents to use public dollars to send their children to private and religious schools. It then circumvented Republican Senate President Andy Biggs, who had originally blocked the legislation, saying he was opposed to the federal program. The plan was approved by the House and then the Senate a day later.