Childless adults look forward to Medicaid expansion

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Governor Jan Brewer yesterday praised the state legislature for enacting what she calls the "most sweeping health care legislation in decades." Once the Governor signs Medicaid expansion, about 300,000 Arizonans who right now are without health care coverage will be able to apply for it. The plan is designed to comply with Proposition 204, a mandate overwhelmingly approved by Arizona voters that requires AHCCCS to provide healthcare coverage to Arizona childless adults up to 100 percent of poverty.

Though critics, and those who voted against expansion and may see it as a government overreach, officials at the El Rio Community Health Center said Friday the expansion is a huge win, not only for those who currently do not have care, but for the community as a whole.

Brizza Contreras had Medicaid until January, but says she could not reapply at the time for personal reasons. The 21-year-old University of Arizona student suffers a serious medical condition. For the past four months, Contreras says she has not been able to take the medication she needs on a daily basis.

"My mom doesn't have enough money for a serious surgery I need or medicine that I need every day," Contreras said.

She says she has since tried to reapply for coverage, but she has been denied, as recently as yesterday.

"I'm very young. I never thought of having children at 21 years old," Contreras said. "Because I'm a childless adult, I can't get care."

Around 144,000 childless adults in our state have lost Medicaid coverage since July 2011, according to Dr. Doug Spegman, the Chief Quality/Medical Innovations Officer at El Rio. Now, they and Contreras could get the chance to successfully reapply.

"It's been devastating," Dr. Spegman said. "Especially the folks who have had perhaps a hospital encounter that occurred during this time frame where they financially can't take this last straw that breaks the camel's back."

For El Rio patients without coverage, a sliding scale is used. But payments are not always received. El Rio absorbed nearly $18 million in un-reimbursed charity care last year alone, Jill Rodriguez the Development Coordinator at El Rio Health Center said.

If Medicaid expansion is implemented, eligibility comes down to finances and proof of residency. The poverty level cutoff has been raised, so single people who make up to a little more than $15,000 per year will qualify, so will families of four who earn about $31,000 a year.

"Those folks are oftentimes the working poor," Dr. Spegman said. "They are folks we really want to make sure we are taking care of because they help our economy in general."

Contreras says she took a semester off school this past Spring because her condition worsened without medication.

"From going from nothing, to medicine, to surgery," Contreras explained. She still has not received surgery and cannot pay for medication without insurance. She says she has not seen her neurologist, a specialist, since January. Now, Contreras says she is hopeful and anxious to see whether she will qualify under the expansion.

Once the expansion is implemented, there are many ways you can find out whether you qualify.

Visit the following links for resources:

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