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Groups rally at Capitol against proposed health care cuts

John McFarland Jr. has spent seven years advising adults diagnosed with behavioral health issues, but before that he suffered from mental illness himself.

Through the help of recovery groups that operate partly as a result of state aid, he said he turned his life around.

“I got off of disability, went back to full-time work and got married, all because of the help I got here in Arizona,” he said.

He said that was why he joined a few dozen people who demonstrated at the statehouse Feb. 2 in opposition to Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposals to reduce state aid for those with serious mental illnesses and to cut back on eligibility for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Both Brewer’s office and Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition, which organized the rally, said the latter move would cut coverage for 310,000 Arizonans.

Timothy Schmaltz, the coalition’s chief executive, said that cutting health care and help for those recovering from mental illness would be a grave mistake for Arizona.

“Cutting 310,000 people out of health care really destroys part of the health care system for everybody in the state by shifting costs,” he said.

Schmaltz also said that cutting recovery programs for the mentally ill would be unconscionable and would not fix the state’s budget woes.

“When you pull out the supports from recovering people, you’re abandoning them to the streets,” he said. “We’re showing them that we’re not going to stand for it.”

Under a 1989 court settlement, Arizona is required to provide housing and medical services to all mentally ill individuals regardless of whether or not they qualify for coverage through AHCCCS. Brewer’s solution would scale back this coverage to include only those who qualify.

Suzanne Legander, chief executive of Stand Together and Recover, a Phoenix mental care group, said this would be disastrous for the state’s mentally ill.

“Most of the people in this room would lose coverage if this happens,” she said. “We can’t keep cutting services to the most vulnerable people in Arizona.”

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