State Health Care Rolls Plummet in Strapped Arizona

Arizona officials estimated that 100,000 Medicaid recipients could lose their health insurance coverage in the first year after the state stopped enrolling childless adults in the program in July. After three months, their expectations are right on track.

The Cronkite News Service, the news agency of the Arizona State University journalism program, reports that 25,000 Arizonans have lost their health insurance since the rule change went into effect. The plummeting enrollment includes 14,000 residents who were denied coverage in September, the largest monthly decline since the new policy began.

All of the affected residents are low-income childless adults. Arizona had previously offered these individuals coverage in what was considered a generous state version of Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor. Only five other states offer coverage to childless adults, Cronkite notes.

But facing an extremely tight state budget, Arizona asked for — and received — a waiver from the federal government to make basic changes to its enrollment rules, leading to the July policy shift. Originally, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had proposed cutting as many as 250,000 people from state coverage.

Despite receiving significant attention in Arizona and nationally, the Medicaid change is catching many residents by surprise, Cronkite reports. The state "estimates that about 70,000 people leave the program and another 70,000 are added in a typical month," the news service reports. "But under the new rules, childless adults who fall off the rolls would lose their coverage because they would be prevented from re-enrolling."

"They don't realize that when they get dropped off this time and they don't (renew coverage) in a timely manner," a state health official tells Cronkite, "they will be dropped off permanently."