Should Arizona expand Medicaid program?

Yes, backing Brewer's effort to restore AHCCCS will help hospitals, patient care
2013-04-01T00:00:00Z Should Arizona expand Medicaid program?Drs. Charles Katzenberg and Manny Arreguin Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

AHCCCS restoration and expansion will stabilize our hospitals and ensure high quality patient care.

As doctors and medical professionals, we do not have the luxury of engaging in the political rhetoric. We have an obligation to care for everyone who comes to our door and to advocate for a health- care system that meets the needs of our community and our patients. This is why the Pima Medical Society, Doctors for Responsible Health Care and the chiefs of staff of Tucson-area hospitals are endorsing Gov. Jan Brewer's efforts to restore and expand AHCCCS.

Over the past several years, the great recession has required our state to take prudent steps to reduce spending. One of these steps was to eliminate voter-approved AHCCCS eligibility for nearly 150,000 individuals throughout the state. The uncompensated care resulting from these cuts has placed hospitals across the state into a financial crisis that, if not addressed, will devastate the quality of health care available to everyone.

As doctors, we witness every day how AHCCCS restoration and expansion will improve the health-care system for every person throughout the state. This act will provide the resources necessary to enable our emergency rooms to continue to provide health care when our patients need it most: on weekends, after hours and in emergencies.

It also will allow many hospitals struggling to balance the requirement to provide uncompensated emergency-room care with the need to invest in new technologies and equipment to improve patient outcomes and reduce recovery time.

Many have argued that everyone has medical insurance because they can always show up at the hospitals and receive care. This is true; however, this uncompensated care has directly resulted in the closure or bankruptcy filing of hospitals through our state.

Consider these facts:

• Arizona Heart Hospital closed after reporting an $8.6 million loss.

• Clinca Amistad, a free clinic in South Tucson, saw as many patients in the first six months of 2012 as it did in all of 2011.

• Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales reported a $3.2 million loss last fiscal year.

• Northwest Medical Center and Oro Valley Hospital wrote off more than $50 million in uncompensated care in 2011.

• TMC wrote off $40 million in charity care and bad debt charges in 2011 and nearly $70 million in 2012.

• St. Joseph's Hospital in Tucson reported a $40.9 million loss last year.

• St. Mary's Hospital in Tucson reported a $47 million loss last year.

As physicians, we understand that an unstable health-care system affects everyone. As hospitals struggle with millions in losses due to uncompensated care, patients experience longer wait times in emergency rooms and for nonemergency surgical procedures and a health-care system that is unresponsive to their needs.

Hospitals around the state have joined Brewer in encouraging the Legislature to approve the restoration and expansion of AHCCCS. In the first year, Arizona will receive $1.6 billon in federal aid to pay to stabilize our hospitals and emergency rooms so they can continue to serve our community.

To secure $154 million needed for the federal match, Arizona hospitals have agreed to levy an assessment fee on themselves. This means that there will be no net impact on the Arizona general fund or the taxpayers to restore AHCCCS to voter- approved 2000 levels.

Doctors and Arizona hospitals are doing our part to keep our community healthy and safe and to improve the quality of life for our patients. It is time for each of us to call our legislators and tell them to restore and expand AHCCCS today.

Dr. Charles Katzenberg is president of the Pima Medical Society, and Dr. Manny Arreguin is president of Doctors for Responsible Health Care.

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

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