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AHCCCS plans to cut services starting Sunday

AHCCCS plans to cut services starting Sunday

CREATED Apr 27, 2011

Reporter: Claire Doan

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Starting Sunday, thousands of people who are below the poverty level as a result of medical bills will no longer be able to apply for benefits from Arizona's Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

The enrollment freeze starting May 1 for the "spend down" program is the first tangible effect of state budget cuts; the program pays the medical expenses of more than 5,000 people whose medical bills bring them to income of less than $7,400 a year. Monica Coury, the assistant director of Intergovernmental Relations for AHCCCS, said Arizona is phasing out the program.

Beginning July, the impact will be even more drastic: the state will no longer accept applications from childless adults, as a move to preserve coverage for the elderly, disabled, children and pregnant woman. The move is expected to remove 100,000 people from AHCCCS coverage over the next year.

Coury said the state has already cut $1 billion from Medicaid and has no other option but to freeze enrollment for these programs.

Coury said the state is still waiting for a green light from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for all the service cuts, but expects to receive one for the "spend down" program by the end of this week.

"It's the best way to preserve coverage for the rest of the population on the Medicaid program," Coury said. "From our perspective, if it was a choice between freezing enrollment and terminating childless adults entirely, we felt freezing enrollment was the better course."

AHCCCS will continue to cover those currently enrolled, but starting October recipients will see charges for office visits, emergency room visits and even missed appointments.

Ruth Brinkley, the President and CEO of Carondelet Health Network, said the cuts will force them to rely more heavily on the community and on donations. She worries about how service cuts will compromise individual patients.

"The cuts to AHCCCS are pretty devastating. They're so important because there are so many people who will be without healthcare," Brinkley said. "The real impact is on patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, all kinds of things, who won't have access to care so they will end up in our emergency room."

Coury said that the cuts are a short-term plan designed to bridge the gap for three years: "I think people need to keep in mind that this is a short-term change. It's sort of a bridge until January 1, 2014, where healthcare reform kicks in and there is a mandatory expansion of the Medicaid program."

Brinkley said there are proposals put forth by the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association to solve the budget problems to AHCCCS, by taxing hospitals and health plans and having that money matched by federal dollars. She said they are trying their best to work with the legislature and Governor Jan Brewer on moving forward with the plan so cuts could be reversed.