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Some say health-care ballot measure details are too murky

Backers of an initiative on the November ballot say their plan would preserve patients’ choice when it comes to their health-care needs.

But some critics and experts contend Proposition 101 is too ambiguous and, if passed, would likely end up in the courts as attorneys argue over how to interpret the law. And they are worried the proposal could jeopardize some state health-care programs that serve thousands of Arizonans.

“I wish it had a lot more detail in it,” said Gene Schneller, a professor at ASU’s School of Health Management and Policy who heads a business consortium that studies changes in the medical-supply chain. “What always worries me about propositions is what it doesn’t say rather than what it does say. Lawyers will be the major beneficiaries.”

But Eric Novack, chairman of the Medical Choice of Arizona campaign, says the intent of the measure is clear: Ensuring that patients have control over things such as choosing a doctor, seeking a second opinion and exploring alternative-medicine options.

“We think the language is very plain on its face,” said Novack, a Glendale orthopedic surgeon.

The Freedom of Choice in Health Care initiative would ban the state from restricting people from choosing their own private health-care plan or insurance, or paying directly for medical services. Under the measure, patients also could not be penalized for obtaining or declining health-care coverage.

The measure has stirred debate in the medical community. Some see it as a pre-emptive strike against efforts to require every Arizona resident to participate in a single-payer, universal health-care system.

Last year, House Minority Leader Phil Lopes, D-Tucson and Sen. Meg Burton-Cahill, R-Tempe, sponsored legislation that would have ensured universal access to health care, though people still would be able to buy their own insurance policies. House Bill 2668 and Senate Bill 1241 never got a hearing.

And this year, a group called Healthy Arizona, said it was postponing until 2010 an initiative campaign to provide health care to all children and adults in the state with pre-existing conditions.

With health-care reform in the works, Novack said he wants to assure that patients’ voices aren’t drowned out by lawmakers, bureaucrats and special interests such as hospitals and insurance companies.

Eve Shapiro, a Tucson pediatrician who chairs Healthy Arizona, said the constitutional amendment is just a bad idea. Such a change is extremely difficult to reverse and the real impacts of the initiative at this point are unknown, she said.

Shapiro added that the proposition could threaten access to veterans-affairs systems, Indian Health Service and other state health-care programs that place some restrictions on medical options.

Last week, the head of Arizona’s state Medicaid program wrote in an open letter that the proposal could dismantle the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

But the Goldwater Institute, an initiative supporter, dismissed claims as “mere propaganda, not serious legal analysis.”

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