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Health Care Reform & Medicaid Cuts: What’s at Stake for Rural Arizona

July 25, 2017

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(Flagstaff, Arizona) – Experts and advocates on rural health policy meeting in Flagstaff this week today raised concerns about the threat Congress’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have on rural communities. More than 180 attendees are meeting at the 44th annual Rural Health Conference in northern Arizona, where a major topic is cuts to Medicaid (AHCCCS).

Dr. Dan Derksen, director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of Arizona, explained that each of the health care reform bills proposed in the Senate would have a devastating impact on affordable coverage, meaning more people will choose to forgo health insurance. The effect would be disproportionately negative in rural parts of the state, where underserved populations, such as Native Americans, will be hurt by cuts to AHCCCS.

“If you kick hundreds of thousands of people off of health insurance, you are creating a hidden tax on the American people,” said Derksen. “Then, we all end up paying for increases in the costs of health care in order to cover all the uncompensated and charity care.”

Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association said issues involving health care reform are complicated and Congress should consider diverse perspectives from experts and others when writing bills. “[Congress]…will make better decisions and come up with better solutions when they include more voices in the process.”

Rural Arizona communities have a higher ratio of low-income elderly and people with disabilities who get lifesaving care and individual support services through AHCCCS to help them stay healthy. Additionally, one in two rural children has health coverage through AHCCCS.
Medicaid expansion significantly reduced the number of uninsured Arizonans, and brought critical access hospitals in rural areas out of the red and able to keep their doors open. Rural medical providers are worried that cuts to Medicaid will reverse these important gains.

“AHCCCS has helped tens of thousands of low-income, working Arizonans struggling with health issues get treatment they need to stay healthy,” said Siman Qaasim, director of health policy at Children’s Action Alliance. “Everything proposed in the Senate thus far would not only hurt – but punish Arizona’s rural communities – by cutting back the number of people covered and slashing jobs in one of the state’s most important and growing industries.”