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Naysayers continue to block implementation of Medicaid restoration

Last year Gov. Jan. Brewer, backed by enlightened legislators on both sides of the aisle, the medical, hospital and business communities, and thousands of activist volunteers across the state, gained a hard-won victory in passage of the Medicaid restoration bill, enabling our state to extend Medicaid coverage to an estimated

300,000 medically indigent Arizonans. This farsighted legislation was designed to restore eligibility to families and single adults with incomes between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level — coverage that had previously been provided in Arizona prior to drastic cut-backs in the 2011 budget — through tapping into federal funding made available under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Benefits associated with Medicaid restoration include affording access to quality medical services to a very needy segment of our population, provision of much needed financial relief to safety net hospitals that were experiencing heavy cost burdens associated with uncompensated care stemming from the Medicaid cutbacks, and a significant infusion of funding to our state which would create an estimated 26,000 jobs, largely in the well-paying health care sector.

On April 22, the state Court of Appeals ruled that lawmakers opposed to last year’s Medicaid restoration have a constitutional right to challenge the law. The bone of contention is a $256 million assessment on hospitals receiving funds under the Medicaid expansion, to cover matching costs that the state must kick in. Opponents to Medicaid restoration argue that the hospital assessment — which was backed by our state hospital association and the overwhelming majority of hospitals — is in reality a tax that under the state Constitution requires approval by two-thirds of the legislators.

Clearly the governor’s Medicaid restoration program reflects the will of the people, who on two separate occasions have voted to expand Medicaid eligibility to medically indigent Arizonans. Yet despite the law’s obvious humanitarian and economic benefits, a vocal bloc of oppositionists are trying every trick in the book to block the law’s implementation.

Opponents of restoration cite their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which is now the law of the land. Coming from a background of over 40 years experience in health services administration and related areas, I will be the first to admit that the Affordable Care Act as it presently stands has a number of serious flaws that must be corrected. Yet the law also includes some much needed reforms, including extension of preventive services to Medicare beneficiaries, barring insurance companies from denying coverage to persons with pre-existing conditions, the creation of health care accountability organizations to implement cost-effective, evidence based mechanisms of health care delivery, and the stated intention to extend health coverage to a large proportion of the close to 50 million Americans lacking health insurance of any form.

Clearly, the people of Arizona have spoken loud and clear in last year’s passage of the Medicaid Restoration Act. Past public votes on two separate occasions clearly indicate that the majority of our state’s citizens favor extension of Medicaid coverage to medically indigent families and single adults, as is also clearly the case with the medical, hospital and business communities.

A Call to Action: Call or email your state representatives and senators today, urging them to do everything in their power to ensure successful implementation of the governor’s Medicaid restoration program. Be especially sure to implore any legislators you are aware of who are ideologically opposed to Medicaid restoration to back off and let the will of the people prevail!

— Dr. John Newport is a former health services administrator and policy analyst, author and health care activist based in Tucson. Website: www.healingtucson.net.

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