Healthcare Rising Arizona targets debt collectors


As a registered nurse for more than 40 years, I know just how important health care is, and more importantly, how personal it is for each of us. I was a young nurse when my husband passed away unexpectedly, and I came away from the stress of that loss with a deeper understanding of the pivotal role that health care workers play in caring for people when they need it most. 

Robin Burgeson
Robin Burgeson

The Covid crisis has taught us this lesson again and again. Health care workers have been exhausted by the pandemic, working for substandard wages and often without the protective equipment needed to keep them safe. That is one reason I joined Healthcare Rising Arizona, to help amplify the voices of those who directly serve patients. Another reason is that my four decades of nursing inside intensive care units, operating rooms, recovery rooms, nursing homes, and hospice care all taught me an important lesson: A lot of times it is the nurses on the front line who see the problems that need solving. 

Medical care can be confusing for any of us, and sometimes the system is not very well thought out. Communication is vital to helping people make the best decision for themselves and their family. But too many times, the business side of the medical industry fails to communicate clearly. The high costs are a tremendous burden for many of us as well. 

That’s where Healthcare Rising Arizona comes in. We are working to make a difference in the lives of health care workers and patients. With more than 500 members across our state, we  bring together the voices of everyone who is impacted by our health care system and use the power of that collective voice to push for real policy change to make our health care system better. 

Right now, we are working together to end the predatory collection practices that trap people in an endless cycle of debt. Families can lose their homes, cars and wages to predatory debt collectors, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. Medical debt can be devastating, and that’s why at Healthcare Rising Arizona, we are working to pass the Predatory Debt Collection Protection Act. Once we gather the signatures to put it on the ballot, Arizonans can vote to limit the interest that debt collectors can charge you for medical debt, and protect homes and cars from seizure. No Arizona family should be bankrupted by the cost of care.  

I loved working in the recovery room at Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa. The challenge of caring for patients to stabilize them after surgery was meaningful to me, every single day. Some people were getting ready to go home; others were headed up to a hospital room to rest. Still others were off to the critical care unit for more treatment. But no matter where a patient was headed next, my job was to deliver compassionate care and pay attention to their needs. That’s exactly why I volunteer as a member Healthcare Rising Arizona today. 

Robin Burgeson is a retired registered nurse in Fountain Hills, where she has lived since 1985. 

Judge disqualifies health care initiative from ballot


Arizonans won’t be voting in November on a proposal to hike pay of hospital workers and guarantee that those with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance.

In an extensive ruling late Friday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pamela Gates said there are not enough valid signatures on petitions submitted by a California union to put the issue on the ballot. Gates found that some circulators were not legally qualified to circulate the petitions.

In other cases, she said, some of the 332 circulators subpoenaed by foes of the initiative failed to appear in court to be questioned. Gates said the signatures they gathered also cannot be counted.

All that left the backers of the Healthcare Rising measure with fewer than the 237,645 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

Campaign spokesman Rodd McLeod said there will be an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Pamela Gates
Pamela Gates

The initiative sought to require a 20% pay hike for hospital workers — excluding executives and doctors — over a four year period.

It also proposed a guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions will be able to obtain affordable insurance if the federal Affordable Care Act is repealed. Another provision was designed to protect patients against “surprise” medical bills from doctors and others in hospitals who turn out to be “out of network.”

And it also sought to require hospitals to comply with certain national standards of infection control.

Foes, led by the hospitals and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, filed suit. They cited a litany of what they said were flaws in both how signatures were gathered and in the wording of the description of the initiative provided to petition signers.

They also charged that signers were deceived because the names used by the backers of the initiative and of the campaign committee did not disclose that it was being financed by the California-based Service Employees International Union — Union Healthcare Workers West.

Gates acknowledged that virtually all of the $6.7 million raised by June 30 came from the union. But she also said there was not “sufficient credible evidence” to conclude that potential petition signers were defrauded or that anyone was confused or misled because SEIU-UHW was not included in the committee’s name.

But Gates did find other legal problems, even if some of the signatures are restored.

One, she said, goes to the 100-word description which says it will “prohibit insurers from discriminating based on preexisting conditions.”

Gates said the evidence shows that about 60 percent of Arizonans are insured through an employer’s self-funded insurance plan. More to the point, the initiative would apply only to those who purchase individual or group plans. And she said it was misleading not to tell signers that the provision would not aid a majority of Arizonans.

She also said it was misleading to say that the initiative would set “new minimum wages” for workers at private hospitals. Gates said there was evidence that people, confronted with that phrase, would equate it with some bottom-level wage set by federal and state law and not the fact that the raises would be on top of what could be a current $37-an-hour salary paid to an experienced nurse.

Friday’s ruling was cheered by Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber. He said it would “have forced tremendous cost increases onto patients and hospitals.”

Two other initiatives have cleared their first legal challenges, one to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults and another to give judges more discretion in sentencing “nondangerous” offenders.

But a proposal to increase income taxes on the highest income earners to fund K-12 education was found to have a flawed description.

All of those rulings, however, are subject to Supreme Court review.

Judges return ballot measure descriptions to Legislative Council


Two more judges have rejected what they called attempts by Republican lawmakers to taint descriptions given to voters of ballot measures.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens, an appointee of former Gov. Jane Dee Hull, said the explanation of some provisions of the Second Chances initiative approved by the GOP-dominated Legislative Council were “potentially misleading.” And she said some of what the panel put in the description of the crimes that might be affected “reflect a lack of neutrality and impartiality, are argumentative and violate (the law).”

Conversely, Stephens faulted the committee for leaving out some language she said is important for voters.

Meanwhile, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah Jr., an appointee of former Gov. Janet Napolitano, made similar findings about how the Legislative Council wanted to explain a measure to voters containing multiple provisions dealing with health care and insurance. And he, too, ordered changes.

John Hannah
John Hannah

These are the second and third judges who have found fault with how the Republicans are — or are not — meeting their legal obligation to craft an explanation of ballot measures that by law “must be fair, neutral, and free from any misleading tendency.”

Earlier in the week Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner ruled that several provisions of an explanation of a proposed income tax hike on the most wealthy have a “misleading tendency” and can add “partisan coloring” to what is being told to voters. But the Arizona Supreme Court still has to rule whether the Invest in Education measure itself can go before voters in November.

Arizona law requires the Legislative Council, composed of lawmakers from both parties and both chambers, to come up with language that is supposed to provide a shorthand explanation of what is in each initiative. That explanation is put into brochures which are mailed to homes of all registered voters.

The makeup of the panel is decided by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House, both Republicans. And they set it up so that GOP members outnumber — and can outvote — Democrats.

The criminal justice measure would give judges more discretion in the sentences they can impose on those convicted of “nondangerous” offenses. It also would allow those already serving time for those offenses to be released after serving just 50 percent of their term, versus the current 85 percent figure that now exists in most cases.

Its text specifically defines ”nondangerous offenses” as anything other than first- and second-degree murder, certain child molestation and dangerous crimes against children, rape, and any offense determined by a judge or jury to be dangerous.

The Legislative Council, however, chose to add some examples of its own to its explanation, including aggravated domestic violence, molesting a child at least 15 years old, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of a vulnerable adult. Stephens said that was wrong on two fronts.

Sherry Stephens (Photo by Tom Tingle/POOL)
Sherry Stephens (Photo by Tom Tingle/POOL)

First, she said, it doesn’t explain to voters that these offenses actually can be classified as dangerous under the criminal code, depending both on the facts of a particular case and decisions made by prosecutors.

`Without providing that explanation, use of these examples is potentially misleading due to the omission of significant contextual information,” Stephens wrote. And she said that in picking those specific examples the panel was not being impartial and was being “argumentative.”

Stephens said there was nothing wrong with lawmakers putting a warning of sorts into the explanation that the Arizona Constitution prohibits the legislature from repealing what voters have approved and allowing them to make changes only with a three-fourths vote and only if they “further the purpose” of the underlying initiative.

But the judge said they failed to point out there are other ways to rescind or alter voter-approved measures, including either lawmakers sending it back to the ballot or voters themselves seeking a change. So she ruled that information, too, has to be given to voters.

Hannah found identical fault with a measure proposed by Healthcare Rising.

It would provide hospital workers with a 20 percent pay hike over four years, prohibit discrimination by insurers against people with pre-existing health conditions, bar “surprise” medical bills from out-of-network doctors, and impose new infection standards on hospitals.

Here, too, Hannah said lawmakers only partly described how voter-approved measure can be altered.

The judge also faulted legislators for adding what he called “argumentative” and “inaccurate” language.

That additional verbiage sought to tell voters that there already are state and federal laws protecting against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

But the federal law is the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are trying to have voided by the U.S. Supreme Court. And there are questions about whether a state statute enacted earlier this year to fill in if that happens provides as broad a protection as would the initiative.