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Say yes to expanding Medicaid

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Dave Safier


What if a business planned a move to Arizona that would pour more than a billion dollars into our economy every year while creating 21,000 jobs? Now imagine those jobs would be spread around the state, including areas hardest hit by the economic downturn. And there’s this added bonus: the money would be spent on pollution-free activities, which would actually increase the health and welfare of Arizonans.

Sound good? Well, that’s basically what will happen if the state says yes to the federal government and expands its Medicaid coverage: lots more money in the economy, a bunch of new, good paying jobs, and health coverage for 200,000 more Arizonans.

Just about everyone in Arizona likes the Medicaid expansion plan except the state’s far right wing. They can’t take off their Tea Party blinders long enough to see the obvious economic and social advantages that come with the federal money. All they see are nightmare visions of Big Government Socialism in the form of the health care law they love to hate: Obamacare.

The proposed expansion will add to the Medicaid coverage we already have in the state. The current coverage is only for people below the poverty level. For a family of four, that’s a yearly income of $23,000 or less. The expansion will move the cutoff up to 138 percent of the poverty level - about $31,000 for that same family of four - which will add some 200,000 people to the rolls. That’s a whole lot of children and adults who will be able to see a doctor when they’re sick and whose costs will be covered when they go the hospital.

Even if we forget about the health benefits to Arizona, the billion dollars-plus flowing into the state will be a huge economic win. Much of it will pay for good paying jobs for doctors, nurses and other health care workers. Those people will then go out and spend their salaries on housing, cars, food, services and entertainment, generating still more jobs. And every one of the new workers - an estimated 21,000 - will pay taxes into our depleted state coffers. No wonder most of the business community is solidly behind the expansion. 

Hospitals, especially those losing money because they’re obligated to provide expensive medical care to uninsured patients, are among the Medicaid expansion’s strongest supporters. They know many of the newly-covered patients will have their basic medical needs taken care of in doctors’ offices, which will mean cost savings and, often, better care. When these people truly need to go to the hospital, Medicaid will cover the costs. That’s why hospitals are willing to pay the $250 million a year Arizona needs to provide in matching funds, which means the money won’t come out of the state government’s budget.

I’m going to give Governor Brewer one of the few compliments she’s ever received from this progressive Democrat. Brewer was on the right side of this issue from the minute she gave her State of the State address in January and has fought hard for it ever since, even in the face of harsh criticism from some of her regular supporters. To her credit, she’s taken her argument beyond the economic benefits and talked about the expansion of health coverage as a moral issue.

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Dave Safier