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State senate committee votes to scrap Arizona's Medicaid program

State senate committee votes to scrap Arizona's Medicaid program

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reporter: April Madison
Web Producer: Laura Rios

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV/AP) - One Arizona GOP state senator has come up with a novel way to trim state spending on health.  He wants to scrap the state's Medicaid program, and replace it with a much smaller one.

Early Wednesday in Phoenix, the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed with him.  It approved a measure that would dismantle the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS.

State Senator Andy Biggs of Gilbert sponsored the measure.  The Associated Press reports that his bill would replace AHCCCS - which serves about 1.3 million people -- with something much smaller, that would serve primarily the seriously mentally ill, and low-income residents who need long term care.

U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Tucson) opposes that idea.  He told KGUN9 that those who are now on AHCCCS aren't just going to disappear, and he believes Senator Biggs' repeal of the program doesn't address future cost effectiveness.  "They're going to end up at the emergency room at UMC, at TMC, at Northwest, at Saint Mary's, where by law, you have to take care of them," he said. "Nobody's going to pay for that cost. Oh yeah, somebody is going to pay, it's going to get pushed down to the rest of the community."

But Biggs argues the system is unsustainable, and said the state needs a true safety net system, not a socialized one.  He told KGUN 9, "As we continue to draw down federal money, it's no longer real money because the federal level is broke. What it is is we are using bonds and IOU's that the future generation is going to have to pay for us to provide healthcare today for Arizonans."

9 On Your Side's April Madison asked Biggs, "So what do those people do, what is the alternative?"

"Well the alternative is two-fold," Biggs replied. "Everyone in our society needs to look at themselves and say how can I better take care of myself and be more responsible for myself. With freedom comes responsibility."

But Dr. Jim Dumbauld, the medical director for St. Elizabeth Health Center, said that's not realistic. He told KGUN9, "All you have to do is look at the data for the last ten years of what happens with people that are uninsured. And that means either private or public insurance. They die earlier, they're much sicker, and ultimately the medical costs even higher yet, and they come back to the public sector."

Arizona's Medicaid Director adds the state could lose 7 billion dollars of federal funding if AHCCCS is cut, which would cause unemployment to skyrocket and hurt hospitals and healthcare providers. 

The measure now goes to the full state senate.