Gov. Jan Brewer held a press conference Oct. 4 to announce that the first Monday in October would be recognized as Child Health Day, though critics used the event to call attention to the disparity between Brewer’s words and her actions.
“This is a time when we all come together to rededicate ourselves to Arizona’s children,” Brewer said during her speech at the Arizona Children’s Center at Maricopa Medical Center.
During the past two fiscal years, however, Brewer has agreed to cut more than $72 million from government-funded children’s health services. The cuts were part of $2.1 billion in state budget reductions that were focused primarily on health care, education and human services.
Brewer also spearheaded legislation to eliminate the state Medicaid program known as KidsCare, though the federal health care law required the Legislature to reverse the decision. Yet Brewer imposed an enrollment freeze in January that has lowered the number of children receiving health care coverage to about 27,000 from 47,000.
Brewer also proposed the elimination of the Early Childhood Development and Health Board and redirecting its money into the state’s general fund. The proposal became a ballot measure, and voters will decide the issue in November’s election.
Advocates for children’s wellness programs protested on the sidewalk nearby, holding signs urging the governor to lift the enrollment freeze on KidsCare, which provides health care coverage to children under the age of 18 if their families meet certain income requirements.
Nearly 53,000 KidsCare applications have been submitted but not processed since the freeze was enacted, according to the Children’s Action Alliance, an independent advocacy group promoting children’s well being.
“It’s really hard to be celebrating children’s health when we know how many kids are suffering and that there’s more uninsured kids every single day,” said Dana Naimark, president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance.
Tim Schmaltz, CEO of Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition, said Brewer’s proclamation was ironic, to put it gently.
“At minimum I find it ironic that she says one thing and does another,” Schmaltz said. “I find it ironic that we’re here today to proclaim it Child Health Day while were basically abandoning 30,000 or 40,000 of children’s health.”
U.S. Census Bureau data released last week showed that 23 percent of Arizona children are living in poverty, up from 20 percent in 2007.
After the event, reporters pressed Brewer to explain her decisions to cut funding for children’s health care programs. Brewer said the reductions were necessary in light of the federal health care law that will add to the taxpayer burden in coming years.
“Hard decisions are going to have to be made and it’s a tragedy, but we know that is something that’s going to take place,” Brewer said.
The proclamation comes as the nation celebrates National Child Health Month. Members of the state’s medical community were also there to announce recent advancements in pediatric care and health and wellness education.
Dr. Kote Chundu, medical director of Arizona Children’s Center, announced the beginning of renovations to the center’s pediatrics ward that will make existing patient rooms larger with the hope that it will decrease average wait times to 30 minutes from one hour.
Michael Bassoff, president and CEO of TGen Foundation, presented its Fitness Research Program, which is a new form of genomic research that aims to help pediatricians make better decisions regarding the treatment of childhood obesity.
Rich Boals, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, discussed the organization’s new programs that educate teachers and kids about good nutrition and the importance of exercise to combat childhood obesity.