Petition jeopardizes health care for thousands of Arizonans

2013-08-25T00:00:00Z Petition jeopardizes health care for thousands of ArizonansSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A petition drive promoted to “stop Obamacare in Arizona” will not keep Arizona from following the federal health-care law.

At libraries, parks, shopping centers and restaurants around the Tucson area you may see signs and people urging you to sign a petition that would put the expansion of Medicaid in the state on the ballot in November 2014.

Many of their signs, accompanied by American flags, assert that signing the petition will help “veto Obamacare in Arizona.”

It won’t.

If enough people sign the petition, however, some 63,000 poor people — including about 5,000 Arizonans with cancer and 2,000 with serious mental illness — will not get the health-care coverage they’re supposed to get on Jan. 1.

Unlike most petition drives that simply place a matter on the ballot for voters to decide, this effort has the potential to deprive people of medical care.

This is what would happen: If organizers collect enough valid signatures — more than 86,000 are required — then a measure asking voters to decide on expanding Medicaid would go on the November 2014 ballot.

In the meantime, however, the the Medicaid expansion would be on hold, and those 63,000 people will remain without medical coverage. They will be denied the coverage that was approved by the Arizona Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer. This was a long, hard-fought process and, in the end, it passed.

So, while in most circumstances we would encourage voters to sign petitions, even for things they would vote against, we cannot in this case.

The stakes are too high.

The effort, pushed by former state Sen. Frank Antenori, a Republican who lost a congressional primary in November, among others, is based on the deceptive premise that Arizonans can “veto Obamacare.”

The Affordable Care Act — the real name of Obamacare — is the law of the land. It has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and it has already gone into effect in several beneficial ways: children with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied medical coverage, children can remain on a parent’s policy until age 26 and insurance companies are no longer allowed to drop coverage for a child because he or she is ill.

Even if you wholeheartedly oppose the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, signing this petition — or even approving the measure if it makes it to the ballot — will not prevent Arizona from having to comply with federal law.

Yet the signs and language around this petition drive are geared to give that impression. For example, the homepage of the United Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives touts it as “The People’s Veto of OBrewercare/Obamacare/Medicaid Expansion in Arizona.”

The expansion will restore medical coverage to childless adults who lost it in 2011 when the Arizona Legislature dropped them from the public system to save money.

The expansion extends coverage to those adults without children who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level — that’s an income of no more than $15,282 per year for an adult. This group includes Arizonans who have a job that does not offer benefits, or who don’t make enough to purchase a policy on their own.

Signing this petition will directly affect the lives of tens of thousands of Arizonans. We urge you not to do it.

We do not come to this conclusion lightly, but we believe that voters must know the consequences that their signature, on this specific petition, will — and won’t — have.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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