This month, the Arizona Daily Star put the spotlight on poverty in Tucson through its series Losing Ground. With one in five living in poverty, Tucson is the nation’s sixth-poorest major metropolitan area.
These individuals are often left without health insurance, and hospitals have borne the cost of caring for them at increasing levels. As nonprofit hospitals, it is our mission to care for all who come, but balancing our mission with the financial realities of our current marketplace has become difficult.
The Tucson City Council’s vote for the Access to Care Ordinance last Tuesday represents a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our local health-care system, create new jobs and improve outcomes for patients in our community.
Tucson’s hospitals are important to the local economy and have been major employers throughout the recession, but our ability to continue to invest in our community’s health and well-being has been threatened. In recent years, Tucson acute-care hospitals have seen a surge in uninsured patients whose care has cost local hospitals more than $134 million in just the last year alone.
The ordinance, crafted under the leadership of our mayor and council, provides a mechanism for generating more than $70 million in federal funding for Tucson’s hospitals that will be used to enhance our community’s health needs.
Under the ordinance, Tucson’s three-acute care hospitals will pay a one-time assessment fee, which will be used to draw down federal Medicaid matching funds, returning $2 to Tucson hospitals for every $1 assessed.
The ordinance imposes no costs on the city and will not result in any additional costs to patients, employers, insurers or the taxpayers. In addition to expanding health-care services by bringing Tucsonans’ tax dollars back to the community, this plan provides a significant boost to our economy.
We applaud the mayor and council for their leadership in fighting to recoup federal funding that rightfully belongs in Tucson. Their firm commitment to our community will strengthen our economy and create new jobs while helping our most vulnerable residents receive the care they need.
Although these efforts represent a major step, the process is not over yet. The ordinance must still be approved by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Other cities have had similar assessments approved, so we expect the Tucson ordinance to be approved as well.
Assuming success, Tucson hospitals will see an additional $70 million to cover the costs of treating the uninsured this year. Those are our tax dollars being returned to our community, which we would otherwise not have received.
Clearly, the collective mission of Tucson’s nonprofit hospitals is to provide for the most vulnerable in our community regardless of their ability to pay, but our ability to continue to be strong economic drivers in the community is threatened. Using the proposed hospital assessment to restore lost federal Medicaid funding will substantially alleviate the impacts of uncompensated care on the local community and allow Tucson hospitals to continue providing the highest quality care, and serve as an economic driver in our community.