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Home / Opinion / Commentary / Newtown and other tragedies emphasize need for behavioral health care through expanded AHCCCS coverage

Newtown and other tragedies emphasize need for behavioral health care through expanded AHCCCS coverage

A common thread runs through the Newtown, Portland, Aurora and Tucson tragedies: One young man’s troubled existence shatters the lives of multiple innocent bystanders. A vigorous debate over gun control is understandable, but it’s not enough to talk about these tragedies without talking about individual health.

Problems involving people’s destructive behavior are rarely one- dimensional, yet nearly all of those problems — drug and alcohol abuse, behavioral health, bullying/harassment, gun violence, and the like — have deep roots in individual health and well-being.

Arizona has important health choices to make, each with effects that ultimately ripple throughout our societal fabric. One of the biggest decisions will be whether Arizona extends health coverage through its highly effective Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) to those who cannot otherwise afford it. If we don’t, hundreds of thousands of childless adults that voters mandated coverage for in 2004 would be denied access to health care, including thousands of people currently receiving behavioral health treatment and life-saving drug therapies that allow them to lead productive rather than destructive lives.

When it comes to extending health care coverage, the argument most often brought forward is that we — including the state and federal governments — cannot afford to. In the wake of events such as Newtown, we’d suggest that we can’t afford not to. In truth, there are strong economic arguments for extending coverage: (1) our health care system is in danger of implosion or serious degradation without it, (2) current employer and personal insurance costs are skyrocketing for those who can pay because of a lack of coverage for those who cannot, and (3) AHCCCS and its private industry partners have proven they can serve this population more cost effectively and with greatly reduced fraud and waste.

Violence of the kind witnessed in Newtown, Portland, Aurora and Tucson seems equal parts outrageous, shocking, needless, and inexplicable until we account for the fact that maybe our ability to care for every member of our society is so compromised as to allow it to happen with increasing regularity.

Bottom line, consistent access to appropriate health care services must be top of mind as we grapple with shock, mourn for victims, search for lessons and ultimately resolve to create a better future for all Arizonans.

— Fred Karnas, CEO, St. Luke’s Health Initiatives; Robin Schaeffer, executive director, Arizona Nurses Association.

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