Without Congress’ action, KidsCare needs a fix

PHOENIX – With no immediate 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 this coming month.

Heidi Capriotti, spokeswoman for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, said Tuesday her agency will use money it gets from the federal government for the traditional Medicaid plan to pay the premiums for youngsters in the KidsCare program. She said that will mean no interruption in care even as the federal dollars that have funded the program dry up.

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.

And after that? Capriotti said if Congress does not come through by that point, it will be up to lawmakers to decide whether to find the dollars elsewhere – 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 all 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 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 not enough to purchase private insurance for their children or work for an employer that provides coverage.

Congress 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.