Take Action & Make A Difference

A good week to ponder faith, morality and Medicaid expansion

March 25, 2013
The Arizona Republic
Laurie Roberts

The young woman stood before our leaders and proclaimed a miracle of sorts. Where once she would have been blind, now she can see.

Chantal Duquette, 25, has an autoimmune disease that would rob her of her sight but for the miracle of modern medicine, a miracle she could never afford on the $8.50 an hour she earns while waiting tables to put herself through college.

“AHCCCS … has been my lifeline and it is the reason that I can see all of you right now,” she recently told the House Appropriations Committee.

It seems a good week to consider the plight of Duquette and others like her. On Dec. 31, 50,000 childless Arizonans who live in poverty will lose their health-care coverage through the state’s Medicaid program. The Legislature could make sure that doesn’t happen.

The Appropriations Committee held its first hearing last week on Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal to continue covering the Duquettes among us and to expand Medicaid to include another 350,000 low-income Arizonans who can’t afford insurance.

Rpublican Party activists across the state are mobilizing to fight Brewer’s embrace of Obamacare, saying we simply can’t afford to help all those people.

“Jesus had Judas, Republicans have Gov. Brewer,” Maricopa County Republican Party Chairman A.J. LaFaro told the committee. He later apologized for comparing the governor to history’s most reviled human being.

Brewer’s plan – providing coverage to any Arizonan living at up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,000 a year for a single adult) — would cost the state nothing. The federal government would pick up most of the tab and a hospital bed tax would cover the rest and if the federal government backed away from the program, so could the state. Supporters say the proposal would reduce charity care at hospitals, which in turn should reduce pressure to boost insurance premiums on the rest of us.

Republicans are aghast, saying Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan would not only saddle future generations with added debt but strain doctor’s offices and emergency rooms across the state with a “tsunami” of new patients.

“There’s a real simple rule. When people have insurance they use it…,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh said. “We’re putting 400,000 more people into insurance and quite frankly they’re going to use that insurance in a system that is already overburdened.”

Scott Dunham has been a diabetic for 43 years. He lost his job eight months ago and soon he will lose his insurance and thus his insulin. Because he has no children, he can’t qualify for AHCCCS.

“I actually don’t know what to do when that COBRA runs out,” he said.

Kavanagh says the answer for people like Dunham isn’t to give them “platinum” health care coverage. The solution, he says, is tort reform, higher co-payments to deter unnecessary doctor visits, more competition between insurance companies and other free-market ideas.

“We are in a crisis,” Kavanagh said. “We can’t afford this fiscal irresponsibility any longer.”

Health care providers described the people they see every day, people saved in emergency rooms yet ultimately doomed by their lack of access to care once the crisis has passed.

The 27-year-old fry cook whose mangled leg was saved after a car accident. But he can’t afford antibiotics or skin grafts or much of anything to aid in the healing. A lack of money will likely lead to the lack of a leg: amputation.

The young woman who has a mass but can’t afford tests to determine whether it’s cancer. If it was, she couldn’t afford treatment anyway.

The older woman who arrived at Yuma Regional Medical Center in a diabetic coma. ER doctors pulled Betty through the crisis but now her kidneys are shutting down. She needs dialysis now to stay alive but simply can’t afford it.

“What I would ask you to do while solving the federal problem,” said Patrick Walz, the hospital’s CEO, “is to think about Betty back in Arizona, who voted for you.”

This is a good week to think about Betty and about the 399,999 Arizonans like her, some of whom will surely die without help.

Our Legislature is filled with good and decent Christian people who go to church on Sundays and try to live as God intended and often try to make sure the rest of us do as well. Yet some of them bristled last week, whenever anyone brought up matters of faith and morality and the ultimate question: What would Jesus do?

To them, I would say this is a good week, a holy week even, to pray for an answer.

(Column published March 26, 2013, The Arizona Republic.)

<- Go Back