Governor Ducey aims to continue KidsCare if Congress fails to act

Posted at 3:36 PM, Oct 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-31 23:05:36-04

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday said tapping the state's rainy day fund might be one option to at least temporarily continue a state insurance program for low-income children if Congress does not quickly renew it.

The Republican governor said that he is working with the state's Congressional delegation to ensure the Children's Health Insurance Program is renewed.

"We have every confidence that this is going to move through our Congress," he said. "We're advocating for this, we're working with members of our delegation. We have the expectation that this will pass."

But he hinted the state's $460 million rainy day fund would be one option to bridge a looming funding gap for Arizona's version of the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"We'll deal with circumstances as they happen," he said. "It's part of the reason we've been fiscally responsible, it's why we've grown the rainy day fund."

The program called "KidsCare" in Arizona covers about 23,000 children whose parents earn too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid but less than 200 percent of the federal poverty limit. The Legislature extended coverage to those children last year.

Congress failed to renew the program that covers 9 million children nationally early this month, and states will soon start running out of funding for the popular program. There are bills in each chamber to renew the program, but they've been stalled since early this month.

It costs about $80 million a year to cover those children, and Arizona has enough money to pay for the insurance through mid-December. Christina Corieri, Ducey's health care policy adviser, said state officials looking at other ways to keep the insurance in place.

One way would be to move children covered under Medicaid expansion into the traditional Medicaid program, freeing up cash that pays for their care to cover the KidsCare population. Moving them for a month would free up about three months of funding for the KidsCare population, Corieri said.

Arizona was the only state without a version of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program before the Legislature restored it in 2016. The state once covered 60,000 children on its CHIP program but it was frozen in 2010 because of a state budget crunch and eventually eliminated.

Ducey made his remarks after making a Halloween visit to the Phoenix Children's Hospital, where many patients rely on the insurance to pay for cancer and other care.

"We want to see KidsCare continued," Ducey said. "We were supportive of KidsCare as it came out of the state Legislature, it's now in front of our United States Congress and we want to see it continued.