Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is pushing hard to provide health care for more of our state's less well-off residents, but resistance continues from state lawmakers.
This resistance is an example of political dogma getting in the way of a beneficial program.
The issue involves a provision of the Affordable Care Act approved by Congress which is known as Obamacare to some. Under that law, which officially starts to go into effect next year, the federal government is offering states an opportunity to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more people. Medicaid – known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) in our state – provides mostly free care to the poor who qualify.
Taking advantage of this option is attractive because the federal government will pick up the tab initially for the expansion. It is true the state will have to pay some of the cost in future years, but even at that point the federal government will be paying most of the cost – 90 percent. In fact, the federal government is paying most of the cost of AHCCCS right now.
It is a good deal. Our poorer residents who have no medical insurance and cannot afford care will benefit with only a small part of it being paid for by the state. Of course, Arizonans are also federal taxpayers so ultimately we pay for a portion of national programs. Still, by accepting this new option some of those taxes will come back to our state to benefit us directly. Why send our money to Washington and not get any of it back?
So who opposes this?
Some do so out of philosophical opposition to government involvement in providing health care, especially if it is part of Obamacare. The governor herself was in that camp at one time, but now accepts the reality of the law and the need for our state to take advantage of what it offers.
Others do so out of concern about the national debt and the cost to taxpayers. They believe accepting the expansion option ultimately increases the national debt and burdens future generations. In fact, Yuma County Supervisor Russ Clark made that very argument this week in voting against a resolution of support for the governor's plan. Fortunately, the supervisors passed the resolution anyway.
The comments of two supervisors we think offered clarity on the opposing views on this issue during the debate. One was Clark who said, “This (Medicaid expansion) does nothing to help the children that are going to pay that debt off in the future.” The other was Supervisor Greg Ferguson who cast the deciding vote to pass the resolution. He said it was a moral issue, not a business issue.
We side with Ferguson. Is it right to deny the children who need medical care today the ability to get it in exchange for the uncertain protection of taxpayers in the future?
We say no.
The reality is we need to find ways to meet both needs. But for now the first priority is clear and that is to support the governor in her efforts to expand health care protections.