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Judge OK's State to Deny Free Health Care for 135,000 Low Income People

Phoenix, AZ – Arizonans voted in 2000 to expand the state's health care program so that everyone below the federal poverty level was covered. Proposition 204 earmarked tobacco taxes and the settlement of a lawsuit with cigarette companies to fund it, supplemented by other -- quote -- available sources. But this year, with cash in short supply, lawmakers cut back funding for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System , the state's Medicaid program, and told Gov. Jan Brewer to alter the rules to make that work. One thing she did is say that no more childless adults could sign up, as Medicaid does not require them to be covered. And she made the same cuts for some parents. Attorney Tim Hogan of the Center for Law in the Public Interest sued, saying that runs afoul of the Voter Protection Act, a constitutional provision which bars lawmakers from repealing or altering anything approved at the ballot without taking it back to voters.

(By failing to appropriate the money, they effectively repealed the provision of Proposition 204 that requires these people get health care.)

But Judge Mark Brain said the Voter Protection Act is not as broad as Hogan claims. He said it does PROHIBIT the legislature from doing various things. But Brain wrote -- quote -- it does not REQUIRE the legislature to do anything. And that, the judge said, includes funding any specific program. Hogan said he will seek immediate review by the Court of Appeals. He said every day the rules are in effect means another day someone who used to be eligible is being turned down. AHCCCS officials said they are not keeping count. But they said previously that, over the course of a year, they expect to turn away about 135,000 people who, before the change, would have been entitled to care. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.