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AHCCCS airs plan to seek federal help for childless adult coverage

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PHOENIX – In asking the federal government to extend its authority to continue Medicaid coverage for childless adults, Arizona plans to request a higher level of funding available under the Affordable Care Act.

At a public hearing Monday, Monica Coury, assistant director of the office of intergovernmental relations for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, said the waiver would allow coverage to continue while increased federal funding would make it more affordable for taxpayers.

“It makes a big difference to the cost for the state for this coverage,” Coury said.

More than 100,000 people have lost coverage since lawmakers froze new enrollments for childless adults last year. It will be up to lawmakers to decide whether to restore that funding.

AHCCCS’s authority to cover childless adults expires at the end of 2013 if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services don’t accept the state’s waiver request.

AHCCCS officials hope that the state will be allowed enhanced federal medical assistance, which would raise the amount covered by the federal government from 66 percent to between 83 to 90 percent.

Restoring coverage for childless adults would cost Arizona about $2.5 billion if the state were to continue with the 66 percent federal matched rate, according to AHCCCS. With the enhanced federal match rate, it would cost the state $928 million.

AHCCCS is accepting public comment until Oct. 19 about the draft waiver request.

Under health care reform laws, the federal government will pay up to 100 percent of coverage for childless adults under Medicaid for states that don’t already have coverage for this population. Because Arizona is one of six states that have already established childless adult coverage with their Medicaid systems, the state isn’t eligible for full federal support.

“It is kind of an irony, because Arizona voters expanded coverage for Medicaid well before the federal government did. And instead of supporting that, the language in the Affordable Care Act sort of penalizes Arizona voters,” Coury said.

AHCCCS heard comments from the public at Monday’s hearing.

Tom Donovan his grandson relied on AHCCCS childless adult coverage before lawmakers froze enrollment. When he failed to respond to a letter from the program, his coverage was dropped, Donovan said.

“When he doesn’t have insurance, then my son and his mother have to find a way to cover his health care,” he said.

Suzanne Legander, CEO of The S.T.A.R. Centers, a mental illness and recovery center, said that restoring coverage for childless adults is the right thing to do.

“We are going to have to provide some kind of coverage, no matter what, because they’re showing up in the emergency rooms,” she said.