September 2, 2004
An increasing number of Arizonans are seeking free health care from the state.
But those who monitor the numbers say they’re not sure whether that means the economy is again getting soft or it’s simply the result of some administrative changes.
Enrollment in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System peaked last fall when 965,810 Arizonans — close to one out of every five residents — was signed up for stateprovided care. That figure dropped for the next seven months, down to 940,422 in April.
But it is now on the increase again, with 972,403 people signed up as of August.
Tim Sweeney, a legislative budget staff member, was finding it difficult to explain the reasons for the situation Wednesday to the Finance Advisory Committee. He said it could be bad news.
Sweeney pointed out that AHCCCS eligibility is tied to household income, which means, he said, that higher enrollment may be an indicator of bad times to come.
AHCCCS spokesman Frank Lopez said there could be other reasons. He said that the state Department of Economic S ecurity, which screens requests for AHCCCS as well as other social welfare programs, has been working to clear up a backlog of applications. That, Lopez said, would result in a jump in enrollment.
Lopez also cited a federally financed media campaign to get those who are unemployed or underemployed to apply for food stamps. He said once these people show up at DES offices they are screened for eligibility for other programs, such as AHCCCS.
Gov. Janet Napolitano said if the upward trend continues at this rate it will have an impact on the state budget. She said the agency’s $4.5 billion budget, which includes $860 million in state tax dollars, is based on smaller growth projections.