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Hospital CEOs support Medicaid program

February 22, 2013
By Peter S. Fine/Linda Hunt/Reg Ballantyne

As the leaders of three health systems that include 22 Arizona hospitals and other health services, we want to express our gratitude for Gov. Jan Brewer’s courageous stance to expand Medicaid coverage for an estimated 240,000 vulnerable citizens in our state who are childless adults. In our view, this is the right thing to do because it will improve the health of these Arizonans.

Our belief that expanded Medicaid for childless adults will improve this group’s health is strongly supported in a study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health that was published Sept. 13, 2012, in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their research focused on three states: Maine, New York and Arizona, and concluded that previous expansions of Medicaid in these states resulted in a mortality reduction of 6.1 percent. In Arizona, this equated to 400 lives saved.

Additionally, the study found that expanded Medicaid decreased the number of uninsured and rates of deferring care due to costs. Further, our position is supported by the fact that the physicians and hospitals that will provide care for these newly covered Medicaid patients are the same physicians and hospitals currently providing outstanding care for Arizonans in other government programs and private-sector insurance plans.

The governor’s position to improve the health of uninsured adults living in Arizona makes a great deal of sense and is deserving of support. As health leaders in the state, the governor can count on our support and rallying others in the hospital and medical community around this cause.

Of course, this leads us to the state Capitol and into the chambers of the Arizona House and Senate. It is here that Governor Brewer’s Medicaid plan must be supported and we strongly urge our state lawmakers to pass the necessary legislation to expand Medicaid.

The Harvard study informs us that there are 400 lives a year in Arizona depending on this legislation. Who else is depending on this legislation?

Organ transplant candidates who are unable to get on an organ donor list because they can’t demonstrate the ability to pay for years of anti-rejection drugs.

Individuals, most of whom have jobs but are unable to afford insurance, who are diagnosed every day with serious and costly diseases like congestive heart failure, cancer, diabetes and neurologic disorders.

Expecting moms who have no access to insurance coverage for prenatal care.

People who have been laid off from their jobs and have lost their health insurance who are in serious automobile accidents and suffer debilitating injuries requiring complex and sometimes long-term hospital and rehabilitation care.

HIV-positive patients who “stretch out” their medicine supply. As a result, many come into an emergency room very ill and are admitted into the hospital for several days for treatment to return their “T-cell counts” to an acceptable level, which improves their ability to fight diseases.

The financial equation in the governor’s position cannot be ignored, either. Medicare expansion will reduce the level of uncompensated care provided by hospitals. As a result, there likely will be a decrease by hospitals in shifting the costs of uncompensated care to insurance companies, self-insured employers, and Arizona families. The annual hospital assessment mechanism now on the table is designed to trigger the release of federal dollars to help pay for this expansion.

Every day the dedicated staffs at the hospitals we lead and those at other hospitals throughout Arizona serve thousands of these patients. With legislative support, we believe there is a clear pathway to improving care and better serving their needs. While it’s a win-win for everyone, ultimately Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for an estimated 240,000 childless adults in Arizona.

Peter S. Fine is president and CEO of Banner Health. Linda Hunt is president and CEO of Dignity Health Arizona. Reginald M. Ballantyne III is senior corporate officer at Vanguard Health Systems

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