Two Republican lawmakers, Phoenix chamber oppose health care bill

PHOENIX – A group of Republican legislators, business leaders and doctors in Arizona joined a continuing chorus of opposition to the national health-care bill Thursday, saying it would slash state Medicaid coverage for seniors, children and veterans.

Arizona Republican legislators Heather Carter and Michelle Udall, leaders from the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and doctors oppose the Senate bill.

“This legislation threatens to return us to the bad old days of enrollment freezes, when uninsured patients flood our emergency rooms and the costs to care for them have shifted to hospitals and to taxpayers,” said Carter, who is a Republican representing Cave Creek and chairs the House Health Committee.

Carter said she had observed a heartbreaking human toll when she and other legislators froze Arizona’s version of Medicaid for childless adults in 2011. She said she was proud to have helped restore those rollbacks in 2013.

She also said the proposed cuts would hurt the local economy, whose robust health care industry ensured jobs and growth.

Jennifer Mellor, vice president for economic development with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, cited state estimates Arizona could lose $7 billion in revenue over the next ten years if the Senate bill passes.

“The current bill before Congress will do serious harm to Arizona’s economy and undo years of progress in controlling health care costs,” Mellor said.

Udall, a Mesa Republican who is a member of the House Health Committee, also appeared at the news conference.

Democrats have excoriated House and Senate bills to replace the Affordable Care Act enacted under President Obama but few Arizona Republicans have publicly opposed it. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, who has been battered by protesters, have not taken a stance.

Republican Senate leaders are backing the Senate bill, which aims to cut costs in the health-care marketplace said to be out of control.

But supporters have had a tough time getting the bill through Washington. The Phoenix news conference came on the same day as Senate leaders proposed revisions to appeal to conservative and moderate senators.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is spearheading the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, tweeted on Thursday: “Doing nothing, isn’t an option. Failure to act means more families continue to get hurt by #Obamacare’s collapse. It’s time for #BetterCare.”

The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, which has opposed previous versions of the bill on Capitol Hill, on Thursday tweeted a question about the latest revision.

“We can’t allow Az’s healthcare 2 suffer the consequences of replacing the #ACA w/ policy tht won’t benefit Arizonans,” the tweet says.

The proposal “remains a bad deal for Arizona patients, families and health care providers,” the association said in a statement Thursday.

Dr. Jared Muenzer, an executive with Phoenix Children’s Hospital, said at the news conference that 636,000 Arizona children rely on the state’s version of Medicaid, known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, for health care coverage.

“From birth defects to cancer, to heart transplants to disabilities, these are the kids that often require very expensive and long-term treatment for their health, treatment that is not always covered by commercial insurers,” Muenzer said.

Mellor and Carter said the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, was far from perfect. Reform is necessary but cutting coverage is not an improvement.

“The current bill being debated in Congress is not right,” Mellor said. “It’s not ready enough for reform. The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce is asking Congress to go back, sharpen their pencils and come with a better deal for Arizonans and the American people.”

Jon Altmann, vice president of the Association of the U.S. Navy, said many veterans who don’t qualify for Veterans Administration care depend on Medicaid.

“The Medicaid coverage these American heroes and their families depend on is now threatened by this federal legislation,” Altmann said.

Altmann, who is a Republican, said the issue transcends traditional party lines.

“When it comes to our most vulnerable, the health care debate is not red, nor blue,” he said. “Medicaid has been the red, white and blue safety net for those who have served us and their families who have endured their service.”