The recent signing of the Medicaid Restoration Law by Gov Jan Brewer was a proud day for Arizona! This landmark legislation was approved by a unusual coalition of 14 Republicans working with the entire Democratic caucus to shepherd the bill through both houses. This coalition included Tucson’s own Ethan Orr (R-District 9), a leading proponent of the initiative. Passage was accomplished despite opposition from the majority of Republicans who control both houses, as well as the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. Key players in bringing the bill to the Governor’s desk included Senate Majority Leader John McComish (R-District 18), who broke rank from Republican colleagues who opposed the bill, and former Senate President Steve Pierce (R-Prescott) who lent his wholehearted support to the initiative, together with House minority leader Chad Campbell (D- District 21) and Senate minority leader Leah Taylor (D-District 27).
Unfortunately, former State Senators Frank Antenori (R-Tucson) and Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu City) are determined to block implementation of this legislation through forcing a public vote to ratify approval of the law. They are currently spearheading a drive to gather 86,405 valid signatures needed to place the referendum on the ballot. This mean-spirited ploy for a public referendum will delay implementation of the law by one full year – depriving needy citizens of badly needed services and our safety net hospitals of badly needed revenues.
The following is an open letter to former Senators Antenori and Gould addressing this issue.
Dear Former Senators Frank Antenori and Ron Gould:
The recent signing of the Medicaid Restoration Law by Governor Brewer was, indeed, a proud day for Arizona. Passage of this legislation was accomplished through a coalition of 14 public spirited Republicans working together with the entire Democratic caucus – with strong support from our state’s medical, hospital and business communities, together with thousands of vocal advocates for equity in health care such as myself.
In light of this hard-fought victory, I am deeply concerned regarding your stated intention to gather 86,000 signatures to place ratification of Medicaid expansion on the 2014 general election ballot. By your own admission your agenda is to use the public vote as a referendum against the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, funded by well-heeled out-of-state interests. Moving forward with this grotesque agenda would constitute an abomination and a gross injustice to the people of Arizona!
As you are both aware, key benefits that the Medicaid Restoration Law promises to deliver include:
- An additional 1.6 billion federal dollars will be infused into our Medicaid program at no net cost to Arizona. This will enable an estimated 300,000 needy Arizonans to access quality health care, and thousands of lives will be saved.
- The Grand Canyon Institute projects that this funding will bring an additional 21,000 jobs to Arizona – many of which will be in the high-paying health care sector.
- The legislation will protect safety net hospitals throughout the state from being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by growing costs of uncompensated care created by Arizona’s 2010 Medicaid cut-backs.
- The initiative’s objective of extending coverage to additional needy Arizonans offers potential to reduce welfare costs, through enabling many of these people to correct medical conditions that jeopardize their ability to obtain gainful employment.
- The measure enjoys widespread support from the hospital community, the Arizona Medical Society, and business and community leaders throughout the state.
As you are well aware, our voters have approved ballot initiatives calling for Medicaid expansion on two separate occasions. This time around, however, we cannot afford an ill-conceived ballot initiative with the blatant intent of triggering a mean-spirited referendum on the Affordable Care Act. That would constitute a gross disservice to the citizens of our state.
In all due respect, I urge you both to back off and respect the will of the people, as reflected by the recent vote of approval by our currently elected representatives.
John Newport, Ph.D., Dr.P.H. (Doctor of Public Health)
Former senior level health policy analyst, UCLA School of Public Health
Author and Advocate for Equity in Health Care
PS: As a public health professional I believe that while the Affordable Care Act in its present form is far from perfect, it nonetheless provides a viable starting point for badly needed health care reform. In this spirit, I would advise both of you to direct to the federal level your constructive criticisms and suggestions for improvement concerning the Affordable Care Act. Now that former AZ State Representative Matt Heinz, MD, has agreed to assume the role of Director of Provider Relations for the office charged with implementing the ACA, your critiques and suggestions will hopefully fall on receptive ears.