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Brewer visits Yuma to explain Medicaid expansion plan
It's the law of the land, and it's not going away while the President is in office, Gov. Jan. Brewer said as she explained her decision to expand the Medicaid program in Arizona as part of the Affordable Care Act.
After opposing Obama's health-care plan and even joining other governors in suing the federal government, Brewer visited Yuma on Thursday to explain her change of heart.
A coalition of local business and health-care leaders joined the governor Thursday afternoon at Yuma Regional Medical Center to support her plan to accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion.
Flanked by YRMC President and CEO Pat Walz, Sen. Don Shooter (R-Yuma), Dr. Ram Krishna, businessman and hospital board member Vic Smith, Yuma County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ken Rosevear and Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Julie Engel, Brewer noted that this was “one of the most difficult decisions” she has made in her political career. She arrived at the decision after seeking input from a wide range of people, she said.
In the end, Brewer felt she could not turn away nearly $8 million in federal assistance over the next four years, creating and saving thousands of jobs and protecting rural and “safety-net” hospitals, she said.
“Our hospital presidents and CEOs understand the growing cost they face in providing care for the uninsured. These costs are real and they are not just absorbed to the hospital's bottom line. No, ultimately they are passed down to Arizona families” through premium increases, Brewer said.
“With my plan, we can not only begin to get a handle on these costs, we can throw a lifeline and a safety net to rural hospitals like Yuma Regional Medical Center,” she said.
In addition, Brewer said, the federal funds are needed for the state to remain competitive on national and global basis.
“I've never been a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. I'm uneasy with the federal government playing such a role in private individuals' health-care decisions,” she noted.
But the decision was not about whether or not the law should exist. “It's the law of the land. Our decision is about whether we will take the action that most benefits Arizona families and businesses,” she said.
Smith said he appreciates the plan as an employer. “As a longtime business owner, I have experienced firsthand the impact of escalating health-care costs on the business bottom line.”
He believes the plan will help keep Arizona businesses competitive nationally and internationally.
He noted that the hospital's mission is to “improve the health and wellbeing of the community through the prudent use of resources,” while keeping patients as the priority. “This plan the governor has proposed allows us to do that.”
Krishna, a longtime Yuma surgeon, called the governor a friend of the medical community. He noted that YRMC, the only hospital in town, serves many indigent people and expansion of the Medicaid program will allow the hospital to treat injuries and illnesses before they escalate.
“Improving access to care means that patients are treated early on, instead of waiting until their injury or illness escalates until something more serious and more costly to us all. So with this plan that she has provided for us, it will be easier for us to take care of patients,” Krishna said.
Rosevear said the chamber regularly uses the hospital as a tool in recruiting businesses to the area.
“We also realize as employers that when AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program) rolls continue to rise like they do and they're not funded properly, it becomes a hidden tax on business. It comes through our rates that we pay for coverage,” Rosevear said.
He noted that the biggest thing that scares businesses is the rising costs of health care.
“So the governor has landed on a tool that really can help mitigate this problem and bring the cost down ... We support the program fully.”
He called the governor's plan a “tremendous tool in our toolbox to help sustain and grow our business.”
Walz expressed appreciation to the governor and elected legislators “for doing what's right for our citizens.” He noted that when the Legislature froze the Medicaid program, YRMC still continued to care for patients irregardless of their ability to pay, but the uninsured usually ended up in the ER, “not the best place to treat chronic diseases.”
Expansion of the program will “give people services at the appropriate level of care and appropriate cost of care. It will significantly go a long way to financially support the facility,” Walz said.
Back at the podium, Brewer pointed out that Arizona citizens have already voted twice for Medicaid expansion. However, during hard times the Legislature “had to put a freeze on these services.” Her plan is “implementing what the voters already voted for,” she said.
The bottom line, Brewer added, is that her proposal won't affect the state's general fund, and opting out of Obama's plan won't help the federal deficit.
“The president will be president for the next four years, and it's not going anywhere,” she reiterated.
In addition, if the state doesn't accept the federal funds, they will go to other states and Arizona will not receive any of the benefits, she said.
“I ask each and every one of you to join me in supporting the plan,” Brewer said, urging citizens to contact their legislators and ask for their support.
After the conference, Brewer told the Yuma Sun that the biggest challenge to gaining support is misinformation.
“People aren't armed with the facts and good information in order to make a good decision. Once people get the facts, the issues they're concerned with resolve and they realize it's a win-win,” the governor said.