Cuts and reductions to AHCCCS affect students, community

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Although 1,351,132 people are still on the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) in Arizona, many others were either terminated from the program on Sept. 1, or were told they could no longer receive certain benefits and services, or that these would be limited.

Of the 1,300,691 people who are on the Acute Care and KidsCare programs, 56,049 people will be limited to family planning services, qualified Medicare benefits and some federal emergency services. These services and benefits include the KidsCare program, as well as 4.3 percent of the Acute Care program population.

Recently, a letter was sent to Heather Abril stating she would no longer receive services such as dental and vision care. Abril, a senior hotel and restaurant management major and mother of a 1-year-old daughter, said she does not see the need to be afraid of losing AHCCCS for herself or her daughter.

“I’m not really concerned about my daughter because I know she’s covered … and I am not worried for myself because I hardly ever use it,” Abril said. “But eventually, I am going to need new glasses or contacts, and it’s expensive.”

Abril’s daughter is Aquila Kitcheyan; she is currently covered by the Indian Health Services and will be covered until she reaches the age of 21. Kitcheyan lives with her grandmother on the reservation; her mom is finishing up her last few months of school at NAU and working close to campus.

Kitcheyan is fortunate she is not one of the 18,000 Arizona children who have been cut from KidsCare. Abril will be able to keep her daughter covered either until she is 21, or until she gets a new job with health benefits after she graduates.

According to Jennifer Carusetta, chief legislative liaison for ACHSSS, there is an explanation that needs to be clear about both the Acute and KidsCare programs.

“To address the budget shortfall, the legislature was forced to make a number of programmatic reductions to critical areas in state government,” Carusetta said. “Arizona is receiving an enhanced matching rate from the federal government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

Carusetta said these measures indicate that AHCCCS has become stuck in a position in which they have to look at the tiniest things like the benefits and services.

“This enhanced matching rate is expected to expire on July 1, 2011, at which time the state will need to identify an additional $1 billion in funding to make up for the reduction in federal dollars,” Carusetta said.

The other issue is figuring out who is eligible to receive these services. The Arizona Department of Economics Services (DES) office could not comment on the cuts. However, it is their job to figure out who is eligible to receive these services.

If a student makes less than $903 a month and has no children, he or she may be eligible for AHCCCS. If the student has a family of four, he or she would have to make $1,838 a month or less to be eligible.

The KidsCare program is where many families suffer the most. As of Jan. 1, 2010, children were being placed on a waiting list until finances are back to normal. However, the state legislature has yet to make any changes for eligibility.

As of Oct. 1 of this year, there are 66,172 children on the waiting list, and about 30 percent of those children are usually denied from the program. Circumstances may change, though, if a parent finds a job offering benefits during the time they are on the waiting list, the family moves or for other reasons.

A majority of the individuals did not completely lose their coverage, however. Many people have limited benefits. Some of the limited benefits and services still offered include family planning and limited help with pregnancies. Most people are no longer eligible for transplants like heart and lung, and many are no longer provided with vision and dental care.

Procedures such as implants, transplants and physical therapies have either been eliminated from the AHCCCS list or have been limited.

One Phoenix man voiced his opinion to a local television station, FOX 10, saying having his AHCCCS’ limitation of his physical therapy will negatively impact his recovery. Instead of working on the injury three times a week for the next few months as was recommended by his physicians, AHCCCS reduced his therapy to 10 sessions. At that rate, he will not have a chance to walk again. He and his wife cannot afford other types of insurance because he has been out of work.

Carusetta emphasized that if the state can limit its spending, then perhaps Arizona will be back in shape and get the KidsCare up and running again, so people who are out of work, disabled or simply cannot afford insurance can have health insurance.

The state will continue to look at other things to cut, but they have started with the basics that could be limited or are seen as unnecessary. The AHCCCS annual budget is $9.4 billion, and the state has been asked to cut back $2.5 million. Although that seems to be a lot, that is the minimum, so the state is looking into everything until the economy is no longer struggling.

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