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Arizona families can apply for expanded kids health-care plans starting March 1

Gov. Katie Hobbs’ administration announced two changes to the state’s Medicaid program that she says will give more Arizona kids access to health care and support families of children with disabilities.

A bill passed by lawmakers and signed by Hobbs last year allowed families earning up to 225% of the federal poverty level to qualify for the state’s health-care program for children. Previously, only families earning up to 200% of that level qualified.

The federal government officially approved that change on Feb. 16, according to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid agency.

Under the change, a family of four earning up to $70,200 a year is eligible to enroll in the state’s KidsCare program.

Hobbs said that could expand eligibility to as many as 10,000 kids.

Families can apply March 1

“This is a monumental step towards protecting our children, promoting a healthier future for Arizonans and building an Arizona where every child has the chance to thrive,” Hobbs said.

Families who are eligible under the new rules can apply for the KidsCare program on March 1, and benefits can go into effect as soon as April 1. 

The budget passed by lawmakers and signed by Hobbs last year included $5.5 million for the expanded KidsCare program this year and $6.6 million for next year. It also included $133,100 for the parental caregiver program.

AHCCCS also announced it is permanently adopting a pandemic-era program that pays parents who act as caregivers for minors with disabilities. 

“We started this during the pandemic to ensure needed services during the extreme workforce shortages and it led to the innovative decision to find a way to make it a permanent part of the Medicaid program,” AHCCCS CEO Carmen Heredia said. 

Permanent Parents as Paid Caregivers program added

Brandi Coon, whose son Tyson was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and other health conditions after contracting bacterial meningitis at 6 months old, fought for the creation of the permanent program with the grassroots Raising Voices Coalition.  

“We saw many benefits to this temporary program, including housing stability, reduced abuse rates and continuity of care, and wanted it to become a permanent option for Arizona families,” Coon said.

Coon said parents and advocates were initially told the creation of a permanent program was “not a feasible option.” 

But, in 2023, AHCCCS officially proposed the creation of a permanent Parents as Paid Caregivers program.

The federal government approved a temporary extension in September 2023 and approved the permanent program last week. 

“As we venture into the approval of this program, I am proud to see Arizona continue to build programs that support individuals with disabilities and their caregivers,” Coon said. 

Parents of minors with disabilities who are enrolled in the Arizona Long Term Care System can qualify to be paid for up to 40 hours per week under the program. 

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.