Arizona's Legislature has a momentous opportunity this year. We have the unprecedented ability to provide access to health coverage for nearly 400,000 Arizonans, many of whom are the most vulnerable among us.
Very few legislators will ever have the chance to participate in a legacy issue that will improve the lives of such a large number of our fellow residents. It has been said that "great moments are born from great opportunity." Expanding Medicaid is a watershed moment for the 51st Arizona Legislature and represents the opportunity for legislators to cast one of the most important and critical votes of any elected official's career.
The crux of the debate is Arizona's ability to leverage a reimbursable assessment on hospitals in order to draw down additional federal funds. That effectively eliminates the financial burden on the state's general fund to support the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, our state's award-winning Medicaid program, thereby allowing our limited resources to be diverted to other equally critical needs such as education.
Regrettably, the Center for Arizona Policy has chosen to insert the politics of abortion into the debate on Medicaid, despite the fact that existing federal and state law already prohibit the use of such funds on any procedures relating to abortion. By doing so, the center has created an artificial distraction for so-called conservative lawmakers in search of a politically convenient excuse to justify voting against what can arguably be described as one of the most important decisions in state history.
Expanding Medicaid will not only offer critical health-care coverage for hundreds of thousands of Arizonans, it will also have far-reaching economic implications, injecting $8 billion in federal funds into our economy through 2018. This translates to thousands of new jobs and tens of millions of dollars in statewide gains through general sales tax and individual income tax revenue. Expansion will ensure that Arizona's tax dollars stay in Arizona instead of funding expansion in neighboring states. Reducing the number of uninsured individuals will contribute to the fiscal stability of health-care systems and hospitals by reducing the unsustainable uncompensated care experienced over the last two years and, most importantly, improving the quality of life for the working poor who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
For all these reasons, the beneficial impacts are far too significant to allow an artificially manufactured issue to recklessly overshadow our moral and economic responsibility and constitutional obligations to provide for vulnerable populations. Expanding Medicaid for the working poor will ensure a financially stable health-care system from which all Arizona residents will benefit, regardless of their economic station in life.
Too often, candidates for elected office will use bold terms to get elected. Very rarely, however, do those same individuals, once elected, get to actually participate in a legacy issue of the magnitude of creating access to health care for thousands of hardworking individuals, at virtually no cost to the Arizona taxpayer.
This is our moment. Arizona residents are relying on this Legislature. We must proceed in a truly non-partisan, non-ideological manner to address Arizona's health-care needs and economic growth in a reasonable and fair manner. I call upon us to support the governor's Medicaid expansion plan at this critical juncture in our state's history.
Bruce Wheeler is a Tucson Democrat and a state representative from District 10. Contact him at BWheeler@azleg.gov