An estimated 162,000 Arizona children are without health insurance, but that number is expected to drop significantly this fall.
On Tuesday, the state of Arizona will for the first time in six years begin taking applications for the government-sponsored health-insurance program KidsCare, for coverage beginning Sept. 1.
KidsCare is Arizona’s version of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. CHIP was created in 1997 with bipartisan support during the Clinton administration. Between 1997 and 2012, the uninsured rate for children in the U.S. fell by more than half, from 14 percent to the current rate of 6 percent.
Arizona’s rate of uninsured children is 10 percent, according to research conducted by Georgetown University.
KidsCare is administered by the state’s Medicaid program, which is known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).
Federal dollars will cover the entire cost of the program at least until 2017. Gov. Doug Ducey signed Arizona law SB 1457 reinstating the program on May 6. The Arizona House passed it 38-21, and the Senate vote was 16-2.
Critics worried that Arizona will eventually have to pick up the tab for the program. Supporters said reopening the program was the moral thing to do for Arizona children.
Until now, Arizona has held the distinction of being the only state without an active CHIP program. The state also has the third-highest rate of uninsured children in the U.S., according to a study by the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown. Only Alaska and Texas have higher rates.
The Georgetown study said that despite positive effects of the Affordable Care Act in Arizona, “It remains among the worst states in children’s coverage, likely reflecting the lack of KidsCare.”
Health-policy experts and supporters of KidsCare say families in the KidsCare income bracket are making too much to qualify for AHCCCS but often not enough to afford commercial insurance, including what’s offered on the federal marketplace, even with subsidies.
Before an enrollment freeze that began in 2010, KidsCare in Arizona provided health care to low-income children in families with incomes from 138 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or an income of $27,000 to $40,000 per year for a family of three, or up to $48,600 for a family of four.
At one time, the program enrolled nearly 50,000 children. Enrollment is now down to 549 children.
“KidsCare restoration helps cover our most vulnerable population — our children. Studies demonstrate that such coverage improves health outcomes, and yields significant benefits in terms of educational attainment for these children,” said health-policy expert Dr. Daniel Derksen, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.