WASHINGTON – More than 14,000 low-income childless adults in Arizona lost state-provided health coverage last month, the biggest drop since the state froze enrollment in the health coverage program in July.
Enrollment has dropped from 217,718 to 192,011 since the state stopped accepting new applicants and began blocking re-enrollment from people in the program who fail to renew coverage.
Community health advocates said the number, while considerable, is less than they had originally feared.
“We’ve managed to keep a lot of people who they thought would be dropped by this time,” said Tara McCollum Plese, director of government and media relations for the Arizona Association of Community Health Centers.
“Now with that said, we are just getting inundated with calls from people who have lost this coverage,” Plese said.
Monica Coury, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, said the numbers “are in the ballpark of where we were estimating.”
Plese and Coury credit the lower-than-expected reduction in the rolls to the “Don’t get dropped AZ!” campaign, which aims to reduce the amount of “churn” in the state’s Medicaid rolls.
AHCCCS estimates that about 70,000 people leave the program and another 70,000 are added in a typical month – the churn rate. But under the new rules, childless adults who fall off the rolls would lose their coverage because they would be prevented from re-enrolling.
“They don’t realize that when they get dropped off this time and they don’t (renew coverage) in a timely manner, they will be dropped off permanently,” Plese said. She believes that those who are unaware of that change “are the ones that have been dropped off” the rolls.
“Don’t get dropped AZ!” is a partnership of community groups that came together to help people understand the changes in the law and maintain their AHCCCS coverage. Coury said the state has provided the campaign technical assistance and guidance on the renewal process.
“They’ve been doing a terrific job,” Coury said.
The childless-adults program covers adults who are not eligible for Medicaid, but have income less than the federal poverty level – $10,890 for a single person in 2011. Arizona is one of six states that cover this group, but it is the only one that sought to limit its coverage because of state budgetary constraints.
The disabled, elderly and mentally ill who have been covered under the program will continue to receive coverage by being transferred into other AHCCCS programs. More than 8,000 enrollees were transferred into other programs when the freeze took effect.
The enrollment freeze was implemented on July 8 after it received federal approval. It is expected to save the state $190 million over 12 months, the biggest savings in Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid reform plan.
But health advocates believe the savings are misguided because the cost to the healthcare system is inflated by lost federal matching funds, which provide two dollars for every dollar the state invests in Medicaid.
Plese said the cuts to the childless-adult program hurt coverage for a population with “very critical health needs,” such as chronic illnesses and cancer.
“These are not people that are just looking for healthcare coverage,” she said. “They’re people who went into AHCCCS because they really need medical care.”