What Can Policy Makers Learn from Experiences of Arizona Children Who Lost CHIP Coverage?

Fourteen thousand children in Arizona lost their health insurance at the end of January 2014 when the state ended its KidsCare program for low-income children, becoming the only state in the country without an active Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Today we released two new reports on how those cuts to children's coverage impacted Arizona families and what lessons can be learned from Arizona's experience for the upcoming national debate on the future of CHIP.

"Living Without KidsCare: Insights from Parents of Children Who Lost Their Health Coverage When Arizona Scaled Back Its Children's Health Insurance Program" is based on focus group research and interviews conducted by PerryUndem Research and Communications. The study found that Arizona families experienced chaos, confusion and disruptions in care for their children. It also underscored how the loss of health care coverage - even if only temporary - can have adverse impacts on children's health. These gaps in coverage not only cause children unnecessary suffering but they impact their ability to attend school and build a brighter future.
Here are a few of the consequences of Arizona's decision to dismantle its CHIP program that were brought to light by families participating in the study:

- A child with Lupus and heart and respiratory ailments was hospitalized because her family could not afford the doctor visits and medications she required;
- The mother of a child with ADHD could no longer afford needed medication and saw her daughter's condition spiral downward making it difficult for her to maintain the focus needed in school.

The second report, "Children's Coverage in Arizona: A Cautionary Tale for the Future of the Children's Health Insurance Program," authored by my colleague Elisabeth Burak, examines the Arizona experience from a national perspective. The report finds that the problems experienced by Arizona families in recent years could become more widespread if CHIP is not funded quickly, or if substantial policy changes are made to the program that do not prioritize children's health. The report also noted that Arizona's extremely poor performance with respect to insuring children (Arizona ranks 49th nationwide for percent of uninsured children) is likely tied to its rejection of CHIP.

As policymakers debate the future of CHIP, it's important for them to keep Arizona's experience in mind. Prolonged uncertainty over the future of CHIP could wreak havoc on successful state CHIP programs across the country. Even small policy changes and delays in funding can cause substantial confusion and ultimately gaps in coverage for children. These gaps in coverage can have very serious consequences for children's health and success in school.

Keeping the successful CHIP and Medicaid programs strong for children as the health care landscape continues to evolve will help provide families with the peace of mind of knowing their children can get the health care they need to succeed.