- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Low-income Arizona families in need of affordable health insurance for their children can begin receiving coverage in September under a new plan offering relief for the working poor.

State health officials estimate as many as 30,000 children will enroll in the first year as Arizona joins the rest of the country in the state’s version of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program - at no cost to the state at least through 2017.

For as low as $10 a month, the program will bolster coverage for families who earn too much to qualify for the state’s Medicaid program and are unable to afford insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Families who earn between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $32,319 to $48,600 for a family of four, can begin applying for the program July 26.

The program known as KidsCare will fold into the state’s existing Medicaid program, said Monica Coury, assistant director for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Arizona residents ages 18 and younger can qualify to receive a full array health benefits available under the state’s Medicaid program including welfare checks, screenings and immunizations, she said.

“It will be relatively seamless for us to enroll these children into our existing program,” Coury said. “KidsCare provides a structure in which children can receive the preventative services they need to manage their health outcomes.”

Supporters say the program is a victory for Arizona’s low-income children, who can now get the care they need to avoid health crises.

“It will improve the financial security of families, it will improve the health of children, it will improve their learning in school and it will really make families stronger,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance, which supported the effort to reinstate the program.

Lawmakers froze Arizona’s version of the program in 2010 because of a state budget crunch. This year’s effort to restore the program was one of the most contentious fights of the legislative session.

Republican leadership in both chambers opposed the measure. They said the Affordable Care Act was supposed to cover these families and rejected backers’ argument that the federal government is paying for the entire cost, noting the large federal deficit.

“We will see the negative consequences happen, because we cannot live our lives on borrowed dollars, we will have to face that sooner or later,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, on the Senate floor.

Leadership in both chambers attempted to block the legislation, but bipartisan support overcame several roadblocks and the bill passed the 16-12 in the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk where Gov. Doug Ducey signed it hours later.

One of the major proponents of the legislation, Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said the measure would never have passed without bipartisan support. For her, it was an issue that crossed partisan lines.

“No matter how you look at the problem, this kind of fills the gap until we can do insurance reform,” she said. “It was a victory for a lot of people that really saw the need to put their political views aside.”

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, was one of five Senate Republicans who backed the measure. He said it was important to make sure that children can get medical care.

“These are children who need health care, who are in the most needy situation,” Worsley said.

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