Advocates for an urgently needed expansion of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System continue to offer sensible improvements — and critics continue to balk. The most recent improvements in Gov. Jan Brewer’s humane plan to accept federal money to add or maintain some 300,000 people on the AHCCCS rolls goes a long way toward answering the most reasonable objections of the critics.
The change that Brewer has proposed would extend coverage to childless, uninsured adults making up to 133 percent of a poverty-level wage.
The federal government would pay most of the added cost. Gov. Brewer has proposed a tax on hospitals of up to 6 percent to cover any state cost. Please note, Arizona has one of the highest percentages of uninsured residents in the country.
Moreover, most of the state’s hospitals support both the expansion and the tax, knowing it will cut their heavy burden of uncompensated care.
Gov. Brewer’s original proposal would have given the AHCCCS director broad authority over the hospital tax. After some lawmakers objected to giving an unelected state official so much power, the governor agreed to language that will sharply limit use of the hospital tax money.
The shift adds to the protections included in the original proposal, which includes a provision that would cut eligibility if the federal government ever pays less than 80 percent of the costs of the added AHCCCS population.
Gov. Brewer estimates that the expansion will ultimately save the state about $150 million annually and bring in about $1.6 billion in federal money — while undoubtedly saving lives.
Opponents in the Legislature continue to stubbornly resist the governor’s sensible proposal. Some say they don’t trust the federal government — never mind the provision to cut the program back if the feds renege. Others say they oppose government-supported health care — although they seem willing to accept Medicare.
Rim Country’s own representatives in the Legislature — Sen. Chester Crandell (R-Heber), Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) and Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) have all signaled their reluctance to vote for the expansion.
But we think Gov. Brewer has made her case on both economic and humanitarian grounds. So we hope that our representatives will accept the improvements she has offered and support this urgently needed change.
Help CASA help kids
Every month in Arizona, the Child Abuse Hotline receives another 2,655 grim calls. Each call comes weighted with tragedy and loss — too often the tale of a strained and broken family.
But what can you do in the face of such trouble and pain?
Well, actually, quite a lot.
You could start by placing a call to the Gila County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, which trains advocates that keep abused and neglected children from getting lost in an overwhelmed system.
The most recent auditor’s report concluded that Child Protective Services has a backlog of about 13,000 cases it never actually had time to investigate — up from 10,000 a year ago.
Moreover, even when CPS finds the resources to investigate reports and sufficient evidence to remove the child from a dangerous home, the system continues to struggle.
Currently, courts have removed 14,000 children from abusive homes and placed them in foster or group homes. That includes about 100 children in Gila County.
The Gila County CASA program assigns a trained volunteer to each of those children. The volunteer works with the judge and Child Protective Services to safeguard the interests of that child. Often, the CASA volunteer sticks with that child all through his or her long and confusing court process, providing a vital consistency in that harrowing journey.
Such programs offer potentially enormous benefits.
According to Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter, it costs $11,246 each year to place a child in foster care, some $62,700 in juvenile detention and $40,000 for hospitalization. By contrast, providing preventive care — things like drug and alcohol treatment, parenting help, respite day-care and supportive social services cost more like $3,400, often averting the much more expensive and traumatic interventions.
The CASA volunteers can play a vital role in not only protecting children from the trauma and incoherence of the system — but also in helping heal families and even return children to their homes with adequate support.
So we hope that you will visit the CASA Web site at www.azcourts.gov/casaofgilacounty/Home.aspx to find out what it takes to become a volunteer.