Court’s delay in health case hard to understand

by Jenny Novac on May 30, 2011

Ever since Gov. Jan Brewer declared earlier this year that she would cut eligibility for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) to help balance the state’s budget, there has been a debate over whether she can legally do it.

Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System

The reason is that Arizona voters mandated in the year 2000 that AHCCCS be available to everyone below the federal poverty level, even though federal guidelines of Medicaid eligibility are less generous. AHCCCS is our state’s version of Medicaid health care for the indigent, two-thirds of which is funded by the federal government.

Funding for the extra AHCCCS coverage was to come from tobacco taxes, a tobacco lawsuit settlement and “supplemented as necessary by any other available sources, including legislative appropriations and federal monies.”

The tobacco money isn’t covering the cost of extra AHCCCS coverage, and the governor says the state has no other available revenue for it, and she therefore can eliminate those in the program beyond federal requirements. That will save at least $200 million that would otherwise have to come from the state’s general revenues.

Foes claim the governor cannot change the mandate without voter approval and that the state has to provide the funds. They asked the Arizona Supreme Court Monday to block the governor’s changes that go into effect July 1. The decision could affect 100,000 Arizonans who would become ineligible for AHCCCS.

Unfortunately, the state’s high court apparently sees no urgency in deciding the issue. It said it won’t hear the issue until September — months after the people have been removed from the AHCCCS rolls. Even after the issue is heard, the court may need more time to make a ruling, kicking the outcome even further down the road.

That decision is hard to understand. Perhaps it prefers a lower court ruling first, but even that would inevitable go to the higher court anyway.

This is potentially a life-or-death situation for some of those people, yet the court apparently sees no accelerated need to consider the issue. It leaves us wondering what they would define as urgent.

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