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Health Care Could Dry Up for Arizona's Long-term Unemployed

Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer

More than 140,000 of the state's long-term unemployed could eventually find themselves without health insurance. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer explains.

Last year Gov. Jan Brewer agreed to take funds from the federal Affordable Care Act to expand eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program to cover everyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $27,000 a year for a family of three. Washington is picking up most of the initial costs, for now.

But, House Speaker Andy Tobin worries those federal funds will dry up. So he crafted legislation to require state officials to seek waivers from existing Medicaid rules to cut costs. That includes trying to place a lifetime limit of five years on how long anyone can get benefits, and a requirement to work, be looking or in a job-training program. But, Rep. Eric Meyer said that ignores the effect it could have if the state gets the waivers Tobin wants.

“Those in our state who are unfortunate enough to not be able to find work for whatever reason will now also lose their healthcare coverage and have nowhere to turn to get that care other than in an emergency department or not get the care at all,” Meyer said.

The bill approved by the House Thursday includes exceptions for those who are sole caregivers to small children and those who are stuck in jobs with wages so low they still qualify for Medicaid. But, legislative budget analysts say even after they are factored out there are more than 140,000 people who already at that five-year limit and would lose coverage if the waivers are granted.

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