Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed a reasonable plan to use mostly federal money to expand the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to some 300,000 citizens.
Unfortunately, the state lawmakers who represent Rim Country seem likely to oppose the governor’s common-sense approach.
Mind you, Gov. Brewer has in the past joined with most of the Republicans in the Legislature in fighting against the federal Affordable Care Act — better known as ObamaCare. Critics worried the federal reforms would only accelerate the already alarming increase in the costs of the Medicaid programs for the working poor.
But no matter what you think about ObamaCare, it makes little sense for Arizona to opt out of the Medicaid expansion it funds.
The state will have to come up with about $154 million to get $1.6 billion in federal funds to expand AHCCCS to cover uninsured residents making up to about 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
This expansion will save lives. One careful study found that when Arizona temporarily expanded AHCCCS to include children in families making up to 133 percent of a poverty level wage and childless adults making a poverty-level wage — the death rate in that group dropped by 6 percent. Other studies suggest that a lack of medical insurance leads to the premature deaths of a dismaying 45,000 Americans each year.
The expansion will also stimulate the economy, providing $1.8 billion worth of jobs in the health care industry in this state. That has more of an economic impact than Luke Air Force base in the Valley.
Finally, the expansion will provide vital help for many struggling families — and most likely provide a boon to local hospitals, especially in rural areas. Granted, Gov. Brewer wants to finance the state share with a tax on hospitals and health care providers. But those health care providers will find themselves with 300,000 new customers — and probably reduce their hefty bills for uncompensated care.
Despite all these advantages, it sounds like Sen. Chester Crandell and Rep. Barbara Barton don’t intend to support the governor’s proposal.
Now, we understand their hesitation.
The rising cost of AHCCCS threatens the state budget. In 2007, AHCCCS accounted for 17 percent of state spending. Today, it accounts for 25 percent.
Moreover, based on past history, neither Barton nor Crandell trust the federal government. The feds say they’ll pay between 85 percent and 100 percent of the cost of adding the new groups to the AHCCCS rolls — at least initially. That leaves open the possibility that in a few years the federal match will dwindle to the 67 percent share it pays for people in the program now.
Of course, even if the state had to pay a third of the cost for the people who gained coverage, it represents a good deal for Arizona residents. But Gov. Brewer wants to include a provision that would allow the Legislature to drop the people added to the program if the federal share falls below 80 percent. That seems to provide the protection that Sen. Crandell and Rep. Barton seek.
So we hope that legislative Republicans will embrace Gov. Brewer’s pragmatic approach. Studies have already shown that such a vote will save more lives than anything likely to come before the Legislature this year.
Sweet smell of smoke
Plumes of smoke drifted down the Verde River canyon this week. Ah, the sweet, sweet smell of smoke.
Now, sometimes, that whiff of smoke fills us with a primal terror — for it represents the single most urgent danger to the survival of our beloved community.
But in this case, it’s just the drift of smoke from burning debris piles left by thinning crews on 200 acres in the Verde Glen area. Crews started on Tuesday and will likely continue through Sunday, getting rid of the piles of brush and chopped up saplings cut last year to create a fire-protection buffer zone around the communities of Verde Glen, Rim Trail, Washington Park and Whispering Pines.
Fire specialists let the piles dry out for most of a year, then set them on fire during the cool, wet winter months when there’s little danger the flames will get loose.
Fortunately, the Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest has worked diligently in recent years to snag grant money each year to continue expanding and maintaining firebreaks that now protect most Rim Country communities.
Of course, we’ll remain in grave danger so long as the Forest Service doesn’t actively pursue large scale thinning projects through the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. But in the meantime, we always pause to savor the sweet smell of smoke when the debris piles burn.