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Vetting veterans would save AHCCCS millions, lawmaker says

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Changing procedures to identify military veterans eligible for federal medical benefits would save Arizona's Medicaid system millions of dollars, a state lawmaker said.

HB 2651, authored by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, would require the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System have its screening agents determine whether an applicant has served in the armed forces by adding lines to the application form. In some cases, the benefits veterans are seeking from Arizona are available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he said.

States such as Washington and Montana already screen for veterans and have saved money by doing so, Gallego said.

"They discovered that a lot of these veterans on their version of AHCCCS should actually have been under the VA health insurance," he said.

His bill would require AHCCCS screening agents to determine whether an applicant has served in the armed forces.

"All AHCCCS has to do is add one or two lines," he said.

Gallego said the bill would require AHCCCS to add two questions to application forms: "Have you ever served in the military?" and "Are you covered by the VA?" If the participant answers "yes," AHCCCS would send his or her name to the VA for further review.

Eddie Sissons, executive director of the Arizona Foundation for Behavioral Health, brought the issue to Gallego's attention after reading an article in Governing, a political magazine.

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The article said that Washington's Veterans Benefit Enhancement Project, which worked with the VA to move eligible veterans from its state-funded Medicaid program, has saved the state more than $20 million since 2003.

"I thought, 'What the hey! Why aren't we doing something like that in Arizona in light of the fiscal crisis we're facing?'" Sissons said.

Gallego said he has tried getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to work with AHCCCS on a similar program but has been unsuccessful.

"This is my effort to kind of kick-start them," Gallego said. "This could potentially save millions of dollars as well as a lot of lives."

However, Jennifer Carusetta, legislative liaison for AHCCCS, said her organization already screens for applicants' eligibility for other benefits, including veterans services.

"From our persepective, it's something we already do," she said.

David Hampton, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, said his organization had a meeting with Gallego a month ago and suggested the matter be left to the governor's office and AHCCCS.

Gallego said what he's proposing is more comprehensive than AHCCCS's current process, adding that he doesn't care whether what he's proposing is accomplished with a law or by changing procedures.

"At the end of the day, as long as we find savings through AHCCCS and also sign up people to the VA health insurance that should be signed up for [it], then I'll be happy either way," he said.

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From the Governing article

  • Washington's program has facilitated benefits for 7,000 veterans, saving $20 million in state-funded health care.
  • Research shows California can save up to $25 million a year if 10 percent of veterans moved from Medicaid to VA benefits.
  • Colorado has identified 1,600 possible candidates, saving the state $8 million a year.
  • Montana has saved $900,000 since 2007 moving veterans from Medicaid to VA benefits.
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