One in every five Pima County residents is now enrolled in a state health-insurance program for Arizona’s poorest residents.
As the economic downturn persisted in 2009, the state’s version of Medicaid added more than 200,000 people, including nearly 30,000 in Pima County.
It’s a significant, historic jump, state officials say. No state program in Arizona has grown faster than AHCCCS, the governor’s office says.
Between 2004 and 2008, the number of Pima County residents enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System jumped by 27 percent.
During that same period, the local population increased by about 13 percent.
AHCCCS is for extremely low-income individuals and families in Arizona – in general, for people living at or below the federal poverty level. That would mean an annual income of less than $10,830 for an individual, or less than $22,050 for a family of four.
The income caps are so low that many people existing solely on unemployment insurance are earning too much to qualify for AHCCCS, program officials say.
As of Dec. 1, there were 213,876 Pima County residents enrolled in AHCCCS – 21 percent of the population.
Statewide, enrollment jumped 19 percent between Dec. 1, 2008, and Dec. 1, 2009. It’s now at 1.4 million.
“Programs like Medicaid are countercyclical and are linked to the unemployment rate,” said Monica Coury, assistant director of intergovernmental affairs for AHCCCS. “In June of 2007 we were somewhere at about 3.5 unemployment, and as we went from 3.5 to 9 percent our enrollment figures have increased in a similar fashion.”
Though there was a modest decrease in enrollment from December to January, Coury said it’s not significant enough to indicate a downward trend.
“Think about the fact that our state’s economy is heavily focused on real estate and construction, and those industries are disproportionately affected and not expected to bounce back anytime soon,” she said. “A lot of people are struggling right now.”
Longtime Tucson resident Lorie-Anne Peltz enrolled in AHCCCS in September after becoming ill with kidney stones.
Peltz lost her job as an administrative assistant for a brokerage firm in January 2009. The single mother of one also lost her health insurance, and eventually her home and vehicle, too.
She applied for jobs constantly, all the time working toward an associate’s degree in criminal justice. She’ll graduate this June.
But all she has ever been able to find are temporary jobs, most of them paying less than $10 per hour.
Except for a brief two-month period of unemployment in 2004, Peltz had always been able to find work, she said. Her first job was in a doughnut shop when she was 14.
But this past year has been different.
She’s not sure when she’ll get steady work again. Until that time, both she and her son will remain on AHCCCS.
“I want a job. I need to pay my bills,” Peltz said. “It’s very frustrating. I’m busting my butt, always putting out applications.”
What’s also frustrating is that a lot of …