There has been no small amount of political drama these past three months as I've traveled the state – including to Yuma – advocating for my Medicaid Restoration Plan. Some media have chosen to focus on a perceived clash on this issue between myself and some members of my party. I get it.
But no one should lose sight of the real issues at stake here.
This debate is about saving Arizona lives, securing Arizona tax dollars and protecting Arizona hospitals.
When I talk about saving lives, I mean Arizonans like Justin Smith. The 37-year-old lost his job in 2010 during the Great Recession. Like so many others, he lost his health insurance along with it.
When he got sick early this year – developing necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh-eating bacteria – getting well wasn't the only thing on his mind. He knew the hospital bills would be staggering. Multiple surgeries and three weeks in the hospital later, Justin's hospital bills now exceed $200,000.
Those costs represent just a fraction of the expenses incurred to save his life. If you think the hospitals are simply absorbing these costs, think again. Much of it is passed along to Arizona families in the form of increasing health premiums – a “Hidden Health Care Tax” of nearly $2,000 per family, per year.
These costs are weighing down Arizona families and dragging down our economy. With my plan, we can finally begin to leverage federal assistance to pay the charges we're already racking up.
That's what “securing Arizona tax dollars” is all about. Arizonans pay taxes.
With my Medicaid Restoration Plan, we can make certain the taxes we pay are returned to our state and used to purchase cost-effective health care for our working poor. This federal funding amounts to nearly $2 billion in the first year and $8 billion over four years. Think about the jobs this will create.
If anyone thinks these dollars will be used to pay down the federal debt if we don't claim them … well, I've got some beachfront Yuma property for them.
With my plan, we can make certain our federal dollars are used to help Arizonans like Justin get the health care they need before they get sick in the first place. And before they show up in an emergency room (which is the costliest form of care).
Additionally, these dollars will throw a lifeline to rural hospitals like yours right here in Yuma.
Between 2011 and 2012, Yuma Regional Medical Center's costs for treating uninsured patients nearly doubled, and now stand at more than $26 million annually. That's about 8.5 percent of total hospital expenses.
On top of this, if my Medicaid Restoration Plan isn't adopted, Yuma Regional Medical Center will lose $10.5 million in annual reimbursements it currently receives for care given to a segment of Arizona Medicaid members. This is because our federal authorization to cover childless adults expires on Dec. 31, 2013.
To lose this funding at a time when uncompensated care expenses are already soaring would be a devastating body blow for rural hospitals like Yuma Regional.
It need not come to this.
With my Medicaid Restoration Plan, we can make certain the Arizona tax dollars we pay into the system are used right here in Arizona, rather than shipped to California, Illinois or any other “Medicaid expansion” state. We can protect our rural and safety-net hospitals that are critical health providers and pillars of the economy in places like Yuma.
Best of all, we can make sure more Arizonans receive basic, cost-effective care – keeping them out of the emergency room and reducing costs for all of us.
But we can only do this with your help. The Arizona Legislature is considering my Medicaid Restoration Plan. Let your local members hear from you. They include: Sen. Don Shooter (firstname.lastname@example.org); Sen. Lynne Pancrazi (email@example.com); Rep. Steve Montenegro (firstname.lastname@example.org); Rep. Lisa Otondo (email@example.com); Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla (firstname.lastname@example.org); and Rep. Darin Mitchell (email@example.com).
This won't be an easy decision for them. Doing the right thing almost never is. But I know my plan is the right thing for Arizona, and for Yuma.