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Analyzing Obamacare's Impact In Arizona


It was a tumultuous week in Washington with President Trump and House Republicans unable to agree on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. So Obamacare remains, as Speaker Paul Ryan said, the law of the land. So how is that law playing out for people? Critics often point to Arizona as a state where the Affordable Care Act has not worked out well. Reporter Will Stone joins us from member station KJZZ in Tempe to talk about the ACA in Arizona.


WILL STONE, BYLINE: Hello. Great to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the president and others, as I mentioned, point to a sharp rise in insurance premiums in Arizona since Obamacare became law. How big an issue is this for the people of Arizona?

STONE: It really depends on who you talk to. The number that was held up repeatedly was an average increase of about 116 percent for the benchmark plan here. The caveat is that most people don't feel that price hike because they're insulated by the tax credits under the Affordable Care Act. The Republican replacement for that would have lowered the tax credits relatively significantly for a place like Arizona. And the question would have been - how would people have afforded premiums?

The real problem, though, has been the marketplace and how insurers have slowly left. This is having an impact - the high deductibles and the lack of options - on real people. I spoke with a mother, Corrine Bobby (ph), who lives just north of Phoenix. And her daughter was born with a complex congenital heart disease. And so she was thrilled when the ACA happened and her daughter could get coverage. But even to this day, she can't afford insurance for the rest of her family.

CORRINE BOBBY: It's amazing that my daughter has this lifesaving care now. But you're going to force me to pay a penalty for something that I can't afford for the rest of us. But that shouldn't be my problem. My problem should be which insurance company I should be getting. That would be my problem.

STONE: They were looking at premiums costing the rest of them $400 to $600 a month and deductibles of more than $6,000 per person. And they just decided, you know, it's not worth it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there are people who have benefited?

STONE: Yes, people - the 200,000 people in the marketplace, many of whom can now afford insurance with the tax credits. And then 400,000 plus people in Arizona benefited from Medicaid expansion. And that was the big concern here when - as the Republicans moved to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are Arizona politicians saying now that it's clear the ACA will be with us for the foreseeable future?

STONE: Our members of Congress were divided about whether they were going to support this bill or not. We had two members who had said they would vote for the bill. And then we had members in the far-right Freedom Caucus who said it did not go far enough, and they were going to oppose it.

So I think we will see our representatives in Congress saying we still need to do something about this law, and it needs to be something that works and actually brings down costs. And I'm sure some people here are breathing a sigh of relief because the Republican replacement could have forced some tough decisions for things like Medicaid here in Arizona.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's next? Is there anything the state government can do to fix the problems with how the ACA is working in Arizona? Or do Arizonans just wait for it to explode as the president has suggested it will?

STONE: This is mostly in the hands of the federal government right now. Arizona was not one of the states that set up its own exchange. It participates in the And leading up to open enrollment last year, we saw the federal governor making efforts to woo insurers back into the marketplace, even after they were concerned about costs and losing money. The question is - will the Trump administration do the same? - and I think that's what a lot of folks who rely on the coverage right now are wondering.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's reporter Will Stone. He's part of a reporting partnership between NPR, Kaiser Health News and member station KJZZ.

Thanks so much for being with us.

STONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.