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Arizona Democrats Divided Over House CHIP Bill

A bipartisan mix of Arizona’s U.S. House members has voted to restore funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

On Friday, the House passed the measured, which would restore funding for the federal program known as KidsCare in Arizona. Funding for the program lapsed at the end of September.

Unless Congress acts, Arizona will soon have to tap into its rainy day fund to keep the more than 20,000 children who receive low-cost health insurance through the program.

Almost all of Arizona’s Republicans voted for the bill, except for Rep. Andy Biggs. Democrats, however, were divided.

Representatives Kyrsten Sinema and Tom O’Halleran voted for the legislation, while Raul Grijalva and Ruben Gallego opposed the measure.

“Had we held out we would have had the votes to actually get a better deal and I think we will still get a better deal when it comes to the Senate,” Gallego said. “That’s why it’s better for me not to provide support now because I don’t want to give a message to the Senate that somehow this is acceptable.”

The legislation would cut funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which, among other things, helps combat the opioid epidemic. It would also shorten the grace period for people enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans who miss premium payments. That could lead to hundreds of thousands of people losing coverage.

“Overall the bill was great. It has policy that we absolutely support, five years funding renewal for CHIP. It’s really good to see that momentum in the house,” Siman Qaasim with the Children’s Action Alliance said. “There were some partisan pay-fors that I think caused a little controversy.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, which has its own CHIP reauthorization bill.

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Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.