Losing access to health coverage a real concern in AZ

January 30, 2017
Contributed Columns

Losing access to health coverage is a real concern facing nearly 1.8 million Arizonans covered by Medicaid.

Doctors, nurses, and hospitals who provide services to our neighbors are alarmed at the prospect of losing important federal dollars that cover the costs of care. With so much uncertainty in Washington, Arizona families and seniors are left not knowing whether they will be able to continue to access health care in their communities.

Since its creation, Medicaid has been a cornerstone of the safety net that protects our most vulnerable across the nation. The current partnership between federal and state governments allows for flexibility when Medicaid enrollment increases and gives states the necessary resources to meet their needs. Medicaid has given health care coverage to millions of Americans and allowed providers to continue offering their services.

However, recent proposals put forth by Congressional leaders and President Trump would radically alter how the federal government allocates resources to states for that coverage. Under these plans, states would receive a block grant, or a fixed amount of federal dollars, to provide coverage to their populations without guaranteed coverage for seniors in nursing homes, disabled Arizonans, or children of low-income families.

A change like this raises a number of logistical questions and would likely create financial burdens for state governments, requiring them to make difficult choices that impact families. In Apache County alone, more than 39,000 people could be affected by a move to block grants. The number is even higher in Navajo County with more than 51,000 Arizonans relying on Medicaid.

This is not a partisan issue. A letter to Congressional leaders from Democrat and Republican governors stressed the need for the federal government to maintain its role in the Medicaid partnership and avoid shifting the cost of coverage to the states. The American people deserve to know how this new funding formula will impact their care.

Medicaid is a vital program for Arizonans from all walks of life, but with nearly 60 percent of the costs of Medicaid going to nursing homes and other elderly care, the current proposals put an inordinate strain on low-income and middle-income families caring for aging loved ones. In fact, Medicaid is the single-largest payer of long-term care in Arizona and across the country.

These families deserve to know the details of these proposals. How much will Arizona receive from the federal government for Medicaid? Will there be adjustments to account for inflation or an increase in the cost of care or drugs? We cannot afford to play games with the health care of more than 70 million Americans.