Arizona Legislature expands Medicaid spending

Enrollment increased amid pandemic

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Arizona health experts are celebrating the passage of legislation that will increase the expenditure authority for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Senate Bill 1096 passed through the Arizona State Senate and House of Representatives earlier this month. The bill increased AHCCCS’s federal expenditure authority from $2.4 billion to $3 billion, which will ensure continued access to care for Medicaid members across Arizona as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed it into law on March 18.

“These federal funds, already allocated for Arizona, are critical to the safety net and necessary to ensure continued access to care for our most vulnerable populations,” said Bettina Nava, interim executive director for the Arizona for Better Medicaid coalition. “Nobody should have to worry about their health care in a pandemic.”

The AHCCCS appropriations were tacked on to a bill concerning commercial driver licenses. According to Will Humble, director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, the supplement was due to the pandemic cutting the 2020 Legislative session short, as well as the federal government’s contribution to Medicaid amid the health crisis.

“That bill is really a correction bill to fix budgetary things that happened because of the pandemic — both because the 2020 session ended so early and then the fact that the federal government increased their contribution to Arizona’s Medicaid program during the pandemic, said Mr. Humble. “AHCCCS needed to adjust their spending authority for that.” Mr. Humble added that the bill had been used as a vehicle for the Arizona KidsCare, or CHIP, program but there was no Republican support, sticking the idea “in the wastebasket.”

Federal funding is supplied to AHCCCS on a matching basis. For every dollar a state spends on its version of Medicaid, the federal government will supply another dollar. AHCCCS is funding with about 75% of federal month and another 16% of state money, according to the agency.

Arizona has 2.18 million people that served by AHCCCS as of an agency report from this month. That number has grown by about 100,000 people since October.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed a large number of applications through the state, starting in March 2020 when AHCCCS received 96,694 initial applications for the month.

That number has dwindled somewhat to 48,746 application in February.

Regardless of why it was happening, health care providers in the state lauded the spending increase, noting that enrollment in AHCCCS has only gone up amid the pandemic. Valleywise Health thanked the governor and the Legislature for moving quickly to help Arizona patients maintain the care they need during a health crisis.

“During the past year, specifi cally during the COVID-19 pandemic, AHCCCS enrollment has grown dramatically, resulting in significant increases in federal matching dollars for Arizona’s program,” said Michael Murphy, a spokesperson for Valleywise. “This authorization by the Legislature allows those funds to flow to health care providers across the state.”

More funding means health care groups will get paid for providing coverage to the local population.

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