AHCCCS program must not be reduced

Rep. Tom O'Halleran Special for The Republic Jan. 22, 2006 12:00 AM

It would be wonderful if we could all wake up today and find that everyone in Arizona could afford health insurance. Unfortunately, not all Arizonans can afford health insurance and not all Arizona businesses can provide coverage.

The reality is that more than 1 million of Arizona's citizens are without health care coverage and an additional 1 million-plus are on the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), our state's Medicaid program.

This means that in a state with a population of about 6 million more than 33 percent of our citizens have no insurance or AHCCCS coverage.

Those who obtain AHCCCS coverage include two-thirds of the elderly in nursing facilities, 17,000 people with developmental disabilities, 570,000 children of low-income families, working poor and unemployed or citizens unable to be employed because of physical or mental disabilities.

There are those also feel that the AHCCCS system is being used to provide insurance for undocumented workers in the United States. The AHCCCS system is required to verify with Social Security numbers that those using the system are citizens.

Federally mandated reviews have found that AHCCCS meets federal citizenship requirements. It should be noted that federal mandates also require AHCCCS to provide emergency services to undocumented residents, which amounts to 2.2 percent of the AHCCCS budget.

Why, therefore, is AHCCCS so important to the average Arizona resident who works hard and provides for their own health care coverage? All Arizona residents benefit from the AHCCCS system either directly or indirectly because of state and federal funding that goes into the entire health care network.

An example is the 2000 citizen initiative Proposition 204, which has saved the state $430 million dollars.

A system that in 2000 provided coverage to 18,000 residents at a state general fund cost that would be $250 million today without any matching federal funding now provides coverage for 200,000 Arizonans (an over 1,000 percent increase in coverage) with $272 million in general funds and $200 million in tobacco tax and settlement revenues.

Additionally our federal match for this program is more than $1 billion. This is funding that goes to doctors, hospitals, ambulance services and other parts of our health care system. Some would suggest that this type of program is just another entitlement and waste of taxpayer dollars.

Without this funding, our health care system still would need to provide treatment to our residents, as required by federal statute, but at higher costs due to use of emergency rooms instead of doctors' offices.

Arizona's AHCCCS system is a national model.

It is managed as a public-private partnership that maximizes valuable tax dollars for health care and has passed numerous state and federal audits. Pharmacy costs in AHCCCS are the lowest nationally in the Medicaid system and its cost per member is one of the lowest in the nation.

Without AHCCCS our residents' health insurance rates and service costs would be higher and our state's health care network would not be able to serve our growing population.

Tom O'Halleran is a Republican member of the Arizona House. He represents District 1 in Sedona.

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