There is no question that KidsCare would help children in Arizona, or that many need help: Arizona has the third highest rate of uninsured children in the United States. And that is not a coincidence, because Arizona is also the only State without an active children’s health insurance program. Legislative Democrats have been pushing to revive KidsCare for years. In fact, restarting enrollment in the insurance program for low-income children was one of our key budget priorities this session. And the Grand Canyon Institute, a bipartisan think tank in Arizona, recently concluded that doing so would be wise.
KidsCare offers health insurance to children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Arizona’s Medicaid program, AHCCCS, but not enough money that they can afford private health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace. According to AHCCCS, reinstating KidsCare would extend health insurance coverage to more than 30,000 children. And it would not cost the state a dime until at least 2018, and probably until at least 2020.
Getting children health insurance, for free, should be the least controversial action the legislature takes this session. But the benefits of KidsCare are not limited to children’s health. In addition to costing nothing, restoring KidsCare would also add around $75 million to Arizona’s economy next year alone. The Grand Canyon Institute also found that the long-term benefits of KidsCare include increasing high school and college graduation rates. Both of those translate into economic benefits for Arizona.
A budget is a statement of values. But despite the many benefits of KidsCare, a few Republican leaders are still not convinced it is a program they should value. Senate President Andy Biggs recently told the press why he doesn’t: “When people say it’s free, it really isn’t free, is it? Because it’s a taxpayer-funded program.” But the Arizona Republic recently reported that, like many state legislators, President Biggs uses state health insurance. Which is taxpayer funded. Is he saying that taxpayer funded insurance is appropriate for himself but not for Arizona’s most vulnerable children?
We will soon find out what legislative Republicans value. Will they place children above special interest tax cuts? Legislative Democrats certainly do. We have been fighting for KidsCare for years, and we will continue to do so.