State senators voted Wednesday to ease restrictions on free health care despite claims by some lawmakers it amounted to giving welfare to those who don't deserve it.
The 24-4 vote on SB1102 would spell out that those who are single and without dependents need to prove only once a year that they remain eligible. It would repeal a year-old law that requires new proof every six months.
Wednesday's change was not made willingly, even by those who voted for the measure. But they said it was a simple question of math: Whatever the state saves by getting people off the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System is eclipsed by the $1.6 billion the state would lose in federal health care stimulus dollars without the change.
"It would be irresponsible not to do this," said Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley.
On a separate 27-1 vote, senators also approved SB1322, which makes jobless Arizonans eligible for an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits. Funding for that, like the AHCCCS cash, also is coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law in February by President Barack Obama.
Both measures still require House action.
The lure of federal dollars to help offset higher costs of providing care for the poor did not convince several senators to go along.
"What the Obama administration is trying to get us to do with this is to go back to giving welfare for people that no longer qualify for welfare," said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said legislative budget staffers said last year that requiring people to prove they remain eligible every six months would save the state about $7.5 million a year.
"Many of these folks apply when they've lost a job," he said of AHCCCS applicants. He said once they get new employment, many no longer are qualified but continue to get their health care paid by taxpayers.
A single person - the only ones affected by the change - qualifies for AHCCCS with an income of less than $10,830 a year. Lawmakers never altered the one-year requalification requirement for families.
But Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction, disputed the contention that letting people go 12 months before having to apply again costs money. She said only a few people are likely to become ineligible after just six months.
"The amount of resources that it takes to have case managers reviewing applications every six months is costly," Rios said, and maybe impossible given the recent layoff of state workers.
Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, who voted against the bill, said the issue is bigger than how often people should have to prove they are eligible.
"The truth is that welfare programs like AHCCCS create dependency," he said. "These programs have built-in incentives that destroy marriage and that create powerful incentives for people not to work."