/ Modified apr 22, 2016 5:08 a.m.

Arizona Children’s Health Program's Future in Question

State may remain alone in the nation without KidsCare.



The KidsCare insurance program for children in low-income families remains in limbo pending state legislative action on next fiscal year's budget.

Some action was anticipated this week, but the Legislature adjourned with no more than rumblings over progress on the spending package.

Arizona froze KidsCare enrollments in 2010 because of a lack of funding. It can be unfrozen under a federal promise to pay all the costs.

As a result of the changed federal policy, the Children’s Action Alliance wants the Legislature to unfreeze enrollment in KidsCare.

“If we unfreeze KidsCare, it would bring Arizona along with the whole rest of the country so that our kids won’t stay behind children in every other state and it gives parents an affordable option,” said Dana Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance.

The Arizona House approved a bill unfreezing KidsCare, but it stalled in the state Senate, where Senate President Andy Biggs said he opposes it.

Biggs' office declined a request for an interview. Previously, he told other news media he opposed unfreezing KidsCare because although the federal government would pay for it, the money still comes from taxpayers.

Biggs is running for Congress in Central Arizona this year.

Naimark said his argument is an oversimplified way of looking at the issue.

“He is absolutely correct, it is not free," she said. "What we say is that it is covered by federal taxes Arizonans have already paid. So we’ve been paying our federal taxes, this is getting our share instead of having our dollars and our health care go to children in other states."

Doctors have said they see the firsthand what happens when young patients lose health insurance coverage.

“I see that in my own practice where I had patients on KidsCare and lost that insurance and they couldn’t come to see me, or felt they couldn’t financially,” said Dr. Eve Shapiro, an Oro Valley pediatrician.

Shapiro said those kids often end up in the emergency room to deal with a health crisis that could have been avoided with early doctor visits. She pointed out the ER and urgent care is more expensive than a regular doctor’s visit.

Most people think of children as healthy, but Shapiro said that is not the reality.

Many have chronic diseases like asthma. When it comes to chronic diseases, managing them with medication is expensive.

"Even when we were in flu season, the cost of Tamiflu, the drug for flu, has gone up to over $150 for a treatment and it used to be a few dollars,” she said.

The budget could be released next week and that may be the first time KidsCare supporters will know if they were successful.

If KidsCare does not make it into the budget, Arizona will continue to be the only state in the nation without a children’s health insurance program.

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