Disease Control

More Bad about AZ's Immunization Rates

School Vaccination Rates Drop Again this School Year

At the core – vaccines are really about community protection.  Our public health system depends on a solid network of providers that are available to vaccinate kids for all the nasty infectious diseases that have plagued humanity for millenia.  Vaccinating yourself and your kids is more about community protection than personal protection. It’s a social contract that we have with each other to keep all of us healthy.

We need just about everybody to participate in our shared social contract to vaccinate in order to get the herd immunity.  When communities have herd immunity, those who can’t be vaccinated and folks with weakened immune systems will still be protected because the viruses can’t circulate.  Measles needs a 95% community vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity.

As a means to maintaining herd immunity, Arizona law (ARS-872 & ARS-873) requires that all children attending school or child care have certain vaccines unless they're exempted by a doctor for medical reasons or by a parent for personal reasons.  

Each year, schools (6th grade, kindergarten, and child care/preschool) are supposed to turn in data about the vaccine exemptions in their school to the ADHS.  

There's bad news again in this year's report- continuing a multi-year trend toward higher exemption rates (worse vaccination rates). For the current school year:

  • 6th grade exemption rates went from 5.4% last year to 6.1% this year

  • Kindergarten exemption rates went from 5.4% to 5.9% 

  • Child care exemption rates increased from 4.3% percent to 4.5%

This year's results can be found on the ADHS' Immunization Coverage Level page.  You can check out individual school exemption rates on the Arizona School Vaccine Exemption Spreadsheet.

There are some pretty discouraging results in this year's results. For example, only 27% of Yavapai County schools (12/44) have herd immunity among 6th graders. Coconino County is only at 33% on the same measure (6/18). As in previous years, charter schools tend to have higher exemption rates than public schools. Lots of data to dive into in the spreadsheet. 

Arizona School Vaccine Exemption Spreadsheet

Sadly, several bills that would have improved rates weren't even heard in committee this year like HB 2162 which would have removed the personal exemption and HB 2352 which would have required schools to post on their school's immunization rates.

However, several bills were heard that would have eroded immunization rates even further including SB 1115, HB 2471, HB  2472, SB 1116, and HB 2470.  Fortunately those bills appear to be dead for this year- but may very well return.

Measles & Mumps Cases in AZ

Arizona Has Lost Community Immunity in Many Places

In the last 2 weeks AZ public health officials have identified and confirmed cases of measles and mumps.  The mumps cases (2) were found in the SE valley and are under investigation by Maricopa County Public Health folks. Another mumps case has been confirmed in Cochise County.  The measles case was found in Tucson in a 12 month old- and appears to have been acquired after travelling to Asia. That case is being investigated by Pima County public health epidemiologists.

The basic detective work will include looking for susceptible contacts and conducting interventions to control the spread. Kids don't get the MMR vaccine until their first birthday, so infants are at high risk of getting the disease if they're exposed... so that group along with unvaccinated contacts (whether for medical or choice reasons) will be among the high priority contacts to identify.  You can see the investigation and control measures for both illnesses in Arizona's communicable disease rules (Pages 34-39).

Measles is more contagious than mumps- but both are easily spread (direct contact isn't needed to spread the virus).  Both are vaccine preventable diseases.  For measles (the most contagious disease), 95% of children need to be vaccinated to prevent spread.  

Whether these cases transition to an outbreak or epidemic will depend on where the index cases were prior to diagnosis, who was potentially exposed and the vaccination status of the contacts.  If the index cases were isolated or if they were in communities (or medical facilities) with vaccination rates above 95% it's unlikely that measles will spread beyond the first case. If they were among communities with lower vaccination levels, there's a good chance there will be more cases. Another wildcard will be whether there were potential infant contacts in doctors offices or clinics if potential exposures happened there.

Many parts of Arizona have vaccination levels lower than "herd immunity" levels, meaning that in many parts of the state we've lost community immunity.  Fortunately, Pima County has among the highest vaccination rates in the state, meaning there's a better chance of containing the disease.  Had the index case been from one of the many communities in AZ with much lower vaccination rates the risk would be higher. Of course- there are pockets of under vaccinated areas in every county- so many communities are at risk these days.  

Arizona is one of eighteen states that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their child with a non-medical exemption Click this link to view the full report.  In fact, Maricopa County leads the nation in the highest number of non-medical exemptions.  

There are 30 Legislative Districts in AZ. You can click here to find out what District you live in so you can communicate with your elected officials about the importance of community immunity and ensuring they understand you support public policies that encourage immunizations.

BTW: there are science-based resources available to help parents make informative decisions about vaccines such as the CDC, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and TAPI.

Public Health Bills that have Passed a Chamber

Access to Care & Healthcare Workforce

SB 1088 Dental Care During Pregnancy (Carter) – AzPHA Position: YES

Passed the Senate 27-3.  Assigned to House Health & Human Services Committee.

SB 1354 Graduate Medical Information & Student Loan Repayment (Carter) AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed Senate 28-2.  Not assigned to a House Committee yet. 

 

SB 1089Telemedicine Insurance Coverage (Carter) – AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed Senate 30-0. Assigned to House Health & Human Services Committee.

 

SB 1174 Tribal Area Health Education Center – AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed Senate 30-0. Assigned to Senate Education Committee.

 

SB 1355 Native American Dental Care – AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed Senate 25-5.  Assigned to House Health & Human Services Commottee.

 

SB 1456 Vision Screening- AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed Senate 29-0. Assigned to Senate Education Committee.

** Kids Care: The Kids Care Reauthorization bills have all languished in their chamber of origin, however, we have good reason to believe that reauthorizing Kids Care including the appropriation needed to pay the state match (10%) will be negotiation in the state budget bills.

 

Injury Prevention

SB 1165 Texting and Driving Prohibition (Brophy McGee) – AzPHA Position: YES

Passed Senate 20-10. Assigned to House Transportation Committee. 

 

Licensing & Vital Records

SB 1247 Residential Care Institutions (Brophy McGee) AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed the Senate 30-0.  Assigned to House Health and Human Services Committee.

 

SB 1211 Intermediate Care Facilities (Carter) AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed the Senate 30-0. Assigned to House Health & Human Services Committee.

 

SB 1245 Vital Records- Death Certificates (Brophy McGee) AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed the Senate 30-0.  Assigned to House Health and Human Services Committee.

 

Tobacco & Nicotine

SB 1009 Electronic Cigarettes, Tobacco Sales (Carter) – AzPHA Position: YES

Passed the Senate 30-0. Not assigned to a House Committee yet.

 

SB 1060 (Strike-all Amendment) Electronic Cigarettes. Smoke Free Arizona Act (Carter) – AzPHA Position: YES

Passed the Senate 28-0. Not assigned to a House Committee yet.

 

Surveillance & Social Determinants

HB 2125 Child Care Subsidies (Udall) – AzPHA Position: YES

Passed House 46-13.  Assigned to House Health and Human Services Committee.

 

HB 2488 Veteran Suicide Annual Report (Lawrence) AzPHA Position: Yes

Passed House 60-0. Assigned to Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

 

SB 1040 Maternal Mortality Report (Brophy-McGee) – AzPHA Position: YES

Passed the Senate 30-0. Assigned to House Health and Human Services Committee.

Disappointments

HB 2718 Syringe Services Programs (Rivero) AzPHA Position: Yes

This terrific bill stalled in the House after not being heard by the Rules Committee. Perhaps it can be restored somehow in the Senate with a Strike Amendment.

Here's this week's detail report

More States Moving to Eliminate Non-Medical Exemptions (not in AZ)

There have been 127 cases of measles were confirmed in 10 states this year with outbreaks in Texas, Washington, and multiple jurisdictions in New York. The reported cases are centered primarily within communities where rates of children who are vaccinated against measles are below herd immunity (due to its high level of communicability, measles require a high rate of vaccination, between 95% to reach herd immunity).  

There are many communities in Arizona and across the country where the rates are much lower than 95%. For example, in Clark County, Washington (where a recent measles outbreak originated) the percentage of kindergarteners who received a vaccine for measles fell from 96% in 2004 to 85% in 2017.

Every state has vaccination requirements for kids starting school, and all states also have medical exemptions.  All but three states—California, Mississippi, and West Virginia—also allow non-medical exemptions (i.e., exemptions based on religious, philosophical, or personal beliefs).

Arizona currently has medical and religious exemptions for pre-school & medical and personal exemptions for public school attendance. HB 2070, which passed the House Health and Human Services Committee Thursday (5-4) would add a new religious exemption for public school.

Over the past 10 years, the number of non-medical exemptions has increased, especially in states that allow both religious and philosophical exemptions. Additionally, researchers have identified several areas in the US where large numbers of non-medical exemptions are granted, including in the Portland metro area, where Clark County, Washington, is located.

Some states are now beginning to do away with non-medical exemptions for school vaccination requirements.

In 2015, following an outbreak of measles at Disneyland, CA eliminated its non-medical exemptions (and immunization coverage recovered dramatically).  In California, vaccination rates rebounded substantially after the personal exemption was eliminated.  Vermont also eliminated its philosophical belief exemption in 2015 (but kept their religious exemption).

This year, a bill to remove the personal belief exemption for the MMR vaccine has passed the State of Washington's House of Representatives (HB 1638).  Many other states have also proposed eliminating non-medical exemptions, including Arizona (HB 2162 - which has not received a hearing), Iowa (HF 206), Maine (LD 798), Minnesota (SF 1520), and New York (S 2994 and A 2371).

Sadly, the bills that have received hearings in Arizona all work against improving our immunization rates, including HB 2470 Vaccination Religious Exemptions, HB 2471 Informed Consent, and HB  2472 Vaccinations- Antibody Titer.  All 3 Bills received Pass Recommendations in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee this week (by a 5-4 margin). They will likely be up for floor votes this week in the AZ House.

Legislative Update

All the legislative committees have big long agendas this week – as the deadline for bills to be head in their house of origin committees is rapidly approaching.  So, this will be a busy week. 

Our policy interns Tim Giblin and Annissa Biggane have been doing a great job tracking all the bills that we’re signed up for and against and monitoring amendments and the like. Here’s their detailed summary of all the various public health related bills and where they are in the system right now.

We have an Action Alert this week regarding some bills that will have a detrimental effect on vaccination rates- so please follow through on that this week- you can see more about that below.

Bills to Be Heard in Committee This Week

Monday

HB 2597  School Safety Plan Task Force (Hernandez) AzPHA Position: Yes

This well-researched bill came out of a workgroup established by students at Mountain View High School. It takes a proactive approach to prevent school violence.  The Bill asks schools to develop plans to outline how teachers and staff will respond to crisis situations, how they respond to warning signs of emotional or behavioral distress among students, partnerships with agencies to refer students to support services, and what services they’ll provide after a violent incident. This important bill will be heard in the House Education Committee on Monday, February 18 at 2pm.  We’re signed up in favor of the bill.

 

Tuesday

SB1399  School Health Pilot Program (Pace) AzPHA Position: Yes

This bill charges the AZ Department of Education with conducting a 3-year physical and health education professional development pilot program to improve the ability of physical and health educators in this state to provide high quality physical and health education to students in this state, improving student health and reducing Arizona health care cost containment 10 system and other health-related costs.  Appropriates $9.5M for planning, implementing, and evaluating the pilot.  This important bill will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, February 18 at 2pm. We’re signed up in favor of the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.

 

Wednesday

SB 1165 Texting and Driving Prohibition (Brophy McGee) – AzPHA Position: YES

This bill prohibits using a hand-held cell phone while driving.  There are some common-sense exemptions for example if the person is using it hands free etc.  Penalties are a civil penalty (no driving points) with the first offense being between $75- $150 and the 2nd offense between $150 and $250.  We are signed up in support of this bill.  Will be heard in Senate Transportation Wednesday at 9 am.  We’re signed up in favor of the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.

 

Thursday

HB 2471 Informed Consent (Barto) - AzPHA Position: Opposed

This bill would add a requirement that physicians provide to parents and guardians the full vaccine package insert and excipient summary for each vaccine that will be administered.  Physicians already provide a Vaccine Information Summary to parents and guardians for each vaccine administered, which is noted in the medical record.

This new requirement would mandate provision of the 12-15 page insert, which is not presented in a format that incorporates health literacy principles. Hearing will be Thursday, February 21 at 9 am in the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee.  We’re signed up opposed to the the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.

 

HB  2472 Vaccinations- Antibody Titer (Barto) - AzPHA Position: Opposed

These bills would mandate that doctors inform parents and guardians that antibody titer tests (which involve a venous draw) are an option in lieu of receiving a vaccination and that there are exemptions available for the state requirements for attending school.   Hearing will be Thursday, February 21 at 9 am in the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee.  Hearing will be Thursday, February 21 at 9 am in the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee.  We’re signed up opposed to the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.

HB 2470 Vaccination Religious Exemptions (Barto) - AzPHA Position: Opposed

This bill would add an additional exemption to the school vaccine requirements into state law.  Currently there are medical and personal exemptions.  The bill doesn't include any verification of the religious exemption from a religious leader, just a declaration from the parent that they are opposed to vaccines on religious grounds.  Hearing will be Thursday, February 21 at 9 am in the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee.  We’re signed up opposed to the bill and I’ll be speaking in Committee.

ACTION ALERT: Please contact the following Representatives and let them know that you oppose HB 2470, HB 2471 & 2472 as they will decrease immunization coverage and jeopardize herd immunity.

Please focus your attention on the lawmakers in bold- especially those of you that know them!

 

John Allen

jallen@azleg.gov

Nancy Barto

nbarto@azleg.gov

Kelli Butler

kbutler@azleg.gov

Gail Griffin

ggriffin@azleg.gov

Alma Hernandez

ahernandez@azleg.gov

Jay Lawrence

jlawrence@azleg.gov  

Becky A. Nutt

bnutt@azleg.gov

Pamela Powers Hannley

ppowershannley@azleg.gov

Amish Shah

ashah@azleg.gov


Bills Heard in Committee Last Week

SB 1247 Residential Care Institutions (Brophy McGee) AzPHA Position: Yes

This good bill will require more robust staffing background checks for facilities that provide services for children and will remove the “deemed status” designation for child residential behavioral health facilities.  Under current law, facilities in this category (e.g. Southwest Key) can be accredited by a third party (e.g. Council on Accreditation) and avoid annual surprise inspections by the ADHS.

This intervention will provide more oversight to ensure background checks are done and that the facilities are compliant with state regulations.  This bill passed through the Senate Health & Human Services this week and will be moving to the floor.

SB 1211 Intermediate Care Facilities (Carter) AzPHA Position: Yes

Like SB 1247, this bill closes a licensing loophole.  This good bill will require more robust staffing background checks for facilities that provide services to people with disabilities at intermediate care facilities.  These facilities would also require a license to operate from the Arizona Department of Health Services beginning on January 1, 2020. 

Under current law these facilities (Hacienda de los Angeles and similar facilities run by the ADES are exempt from state licensing requirements This Bill passed the Senate Health & Human Services this week and will be moving to the floor.

 

SB 1088 Dental Care During Pregnancy (Carter) AzPHA Position: Yes

This bill would expand AHCCCS covered services to include comprehensive dental coverage during pregnancy and appropriate the required state match funding. Passed the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on 1/23.  This Bill passed through the Senate Appropriation Committee this week and will be headed to the floor next.

 

HB 2073 Vapor Products; Regulation (Shope) – AzPHA Position: Opposed

This bill would basically set up a quasi-regulatory program at the ADHS to license electronic cigarette manufacturers in Arizona and specify that only licensed electronic cigarette manufacturers can sell products in Arizona.  It gives no regulatory authority to the ADHS to enforce that vape shops get licensed and they only must do it every 5 years. There are no penalties for noncompliance and penalties are against the purchaser instead of the retailer.  This bill passed the House Health Committee by a 5-4 vote this week.

 

Bills that Have Passed a Chamber

SB 1009 Electronic Cigarettes, Tobacco Sales (Carter) – AzPHA Position: YES

Expands the definition of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes. Among other things, it'll make it clear that it's illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors. The penalty for selling to minors remains at $5K. Unanimously passed in the full Senate and was transmitted to the House this week.

SB 1040 Maternal Mortality Report (Brophy-McGee) – AzPHA Position: YES

This bill would require the Child Fatality Review Team subcommittee on maternal mortality to compile an annual statistical report on the incidence and causes of "severe maternal morbidity" with recommendations for action.  The current law requires a review of the data but no report.

State Legislature Bill Update

More than 700 bills have so far been proposed by members of the Arizona State Legislature so far.  Our Public Health Policy Committee is busy sifting through them and looking for those that will have a public health impact.  We’re not done looking through them yet- but below is a summary of what we know so far.

Tobacco Bills:

SB 1009 Electronic Cigarettes, Tobacco Sales (Carter)

Expands the definition of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes. Among other things, it'll make it clear that it's illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors. The penalty for selling to minors remains at $5K. Being heard in Senate Health & Human Services Committee Wednesday Feb 23 at 9 am.

HB 2024 Electronic Cigarettes. Smoke Free Arizona Act (Kavanaugh)

Includes e-cigarettes in the definition of tobacco products and smoking for the purposes of the Smoke Free Arizona Act.  Because the Act was voter approved- this modification to the law will require a 3/4 majority of both houses.

HB 2073 Vapor Products; Regulation (Shope)

This bill would basically set up a regulatory program at the ADHS to inspect and license electronic cigarette manufacturers in Arizona and specify that only licensed electronic cigarette manufacturers can sell products in Arizona.  It’s unclear what the objective of this bill is and we have not yet taken a position on it yet.


Maternal & Child Health:

SB 1088 Dental Care During Pregnancy (Carter)

This bill would expand AHCCCS covered services to include comprehensive dental coverage during pregnancy and appropriate the required state match funding.

SB 1040 Maternal Mortality Report (Brophy-McGee)

This bill would require the Child Fatality Review Team subcommittee on maternal mortality to compile an annual statistical report on the incidence and causes of "severe maternal morbidity" with recommendations for action.  The current law requires a review of the data but no report.

 

HB 2125 Child Care Subsidies (Udall)

Makes a supplemental appropriation of $56 million from the Federal Child Care and Development Fund block grant in FY2018-19 to the Department of Economic Security for child care assistance. Another bill, HB 2124 would allocate the money as follows: $26.7 million for provider rate increases, $14 million to serve children on the waiting list, and $13.1 million to increase tiered reimbursement for infants, toddlers and children in the care of DCS. HB 2436 is a similar bill.

HB 2337 Family Planning (Salman)

Would repeal the statute requiring the Department of Health Services to apply for the federal Title X family planning grant.

Injury Prevention:

HB 2069 Texting and Driving (Kavanaugh)

Makes texting while driving on a highway a nonmoving civil traffic violation.  The penalty for the 1qst violation would be $100 and the second offense would be $300.  If a crash is involved the penalty would be $500 but if someone died it would be $10K.   subject to a civil penalty of $500, except that if the accident results in the death of another person, the civil penalty is $10,000.

HB 2165  Distracted Driving (Townsend)

A person who drives a vehicle while participating in an activity that willfully distracts the person from safely operating the vehicle is guilty of reckless driving, a class 2 (mid-level) misdemeanor.  I’m not sure if texting and driving would qualify or not- it probably does.

HB 2172  Rear Facing Car Seats (Bolding)

Kids under two years of age need to be in a rear-facing restraint system unless the child weights at least 40 pounds or is at least 40 inches tall.

HB 2246  Motorcycle Helmets (Friese)

Motorcycle riders over 18 would be required to wear a helmet unless they pay a fee that would be set by ADOT. Violations would be a $500 civil penalty, but no points or other sanctions. 

HB 2075  Electronic Prescribing (Cobb)

Pushes the electronic prescribing requirement in last year’s Opioid Epidemic Act back to January 2, 2020 in all counties.  Being heard in House Health & Human Services Committee Thursday Feb 24 at 9 am.

Firearm Safety

HB 2247 Bump Stocks (Friese)

This bill would outlaw the sale of bump stocks on firearms.

HB 2248 Firearm Sales (Friese)

This bill would require a background check for all sales at gun shows.

HB 2161 Order of Protection (Hernandez)

A person who is at least 18 years of age and who is either a law enforcement officer, a “family or household member” (defined), a school administrator or teacher or a licensed behavioral health professional who has personal knowledge that the respondent is a danger to self or others is permitted to file a verified petition in the superior court for a one-year Severe Threat Order of Protection (STOP order), which prohibits the respondent from owning, purchasing, possessing or receiving or having in the respondent’s custody or control a firearm or ammunition for up to one year.

HB 2249  Mental Health and Firearm Possession (Friese)

An immediate family member or a peace officer is authorized to file a verified petition with a magistrate, justice of the peace or superior court judge for an injunction that prohibits a person from possessing, controlling, owning or receiving a firearm. Any court may issue or enforce a mental health injunction against firearm possession, regardless of the location of the person. Information that must be included in the petition is specified. If the court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence to issue a mental health injunction against firearm possession, the court must issue the injunction. Information that must be included in the injunction is specified.

Harm Reduction:

HB 2148 Syringe Access Programs (Rivero)

Decriminalizes syringe access programs, currently a class 6 felony. To qualify, programs need to list their services including disposal of used needles and hypodermic syringes, injection supplies at no cost, and access to kits that contain an opioid antagonist or referrals to programs that provide access to an opioid antagonist.

SB 1119 Tanning Studios (Mendez)

Would require people under 18 that want to use a commercial tanning bed service to have permission from their parent or guardian.

Vaccines

HB 2162 Vaccine Personal Exemptions (Hernandez)

This bill would remove the personal exemption option for parents to enroll in school even though they haven’t had all the required immunizations.

HB 2352 School Nurse and Immunization Postings (Butler)

School districts and charter schools would be required to post on their websites whether a registered nurse is assigned to each school as well as required reports on immunization rates.

Agency Administration

HB 2004 Nuclear Management Fund (Kavanaugh)

Assesses the Palo Verde nuclear plant $2.55M and gives it to ADEM, ADHS and other jurisdictions to compensate them for off-site nuclear emergency response plan response activities.  Being heard in House Appropriations Committee Wednesday Feb 23 at 2 pm.

 

HB 2280  Interfacility Ambulance Transports (Weninger)

A person may operate an "interfacility transfer ambulance service" by applying to the Department of Health Services for a certificate of operation with defined requirements.   The requirement to transport a patient under medical direction to the nearest, most appropriate facility as defined by federal medicare guidelines does not apply to an interfacility transfer ambulance service with a certificate of operation.

SB 1011 Information and Referral Service (Carter)

Appropriates $1.5 million from the general fund in FY2019-20 to the ADES for a statewide information and referral service for health care services, community services, human services and governmental services.  


AHCCCS Coverage & Services

HB 2347 Medicaid Buy-in (Butler)

Would require AHCCCS to set up a program in which eligible people could pay a premium and receive Medicaid health insurance.

HB 2350 HB2513 SB1134 Kids Care (Butler, Brophy-McGee, Cobb)

These bills Would appropriate funding so that Kids Care could continue after the federal match rate goes below 100% on October 1, 2019.

HB 2351 Medical Services Study Committee (Butler)

Establishes a 14-member Medical Services Purchase Program Study Committee to research and make recommendations for establishing and implementing a medical services purchase program. The Committee is required to submit a report of its findings and recommendations to the Governor

HB 2120  Chiropractic Coverage (Barto)

Would add chiropractic services to the list of reimbursable services under AHCCCS.  Being heard in House Health & Human Services Committee Thursday Feb 24 at 9 am.

SB 1088 Dental Care During Pregnancy (Carter)

This bill would expand AHCCCS covered services to include comprehensive dental coverage during pregnancy and appropriate the required state match funding.


Food Safety & Insecurity

HB 2178  Milk Manufacturing License Exemption

A restaurant wouldn’t be required to get a license to manufacture or distribute frozen desserts or frozen milk products if the product is manufactured or distributed and sold at the same facility for on-site consumption

HB 2186  School Meals (Udall)

Schools are required to provide a school meal to a student who requests it regardless of whether the student pays for a school meal or owes money for previous meals. Local education agencies are prohibited from taking a list of specified actions relating to unpaid school meal fees, including announcing or publicizing the names of students with unpaid school meal fees, requiring a student who cannot pay for a meal or who owes unpaid meal fees to work for a meal, and attempting to collect unpaid school meal fees from a student. Local education agencies are prohibited from using a debt collector to attempt to collect unpaid school meal fees.


Access to Care

HB 2218 State Loan Repayment (Blanc)

Makes a supplemental appropriation of $250,000 from the general fund in FY2019-20 to the Department of Health Services to pay off portions of education loans taken out by physicians, dentists, pharmacists, advance practice providers and behavioral health providers participating in the primary care provider loan repayment program. 

HB 2376  Associated Health Plans (Barto)

An association health plan is authorized to operate in Arizona if the plan is in compliance with federal laws and regulations, and if the plan's governing documents require the plan to be actuarially sound and the plan is actuarially sound.

Medical Marijuana

HB 2149  Cannabis Definition (Rivero)

Syncronizes the definitions of marijuana and cannabis in the state criminal code and the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.  There has been some confusion in certain counties- as medical marijuana patients have been prosecuted for possessing extracts and preparations of marijuana that they bought at dispensaries. The appeal of this prosecutions will be heard by the state supreme court. This would make it more clear in state law that extracts and preparations are included in the Act.

HB 2412  Medical Marijuana Cards (Powers Hannley)

This bill would make medical marijuana cards valid for 2 years instead of the current 1 year.

There's Hope for More Valley Fever Research Funds

Representatives Kyrsten Sinema and David Schweikert introduced a bill last week that, if it passes, will increase the funding that’s available for valley fever research.  The bill supports new research and incentivizes the development of innovative treatments to fight the disease. The bill would:

  • Provide incentives to researchers working to find new treatments for Valley Fever;
  • Streamline the approval and review process for new treatments of the disease;
  • Direct HHS to conduct research on Valley Fever and sets up a Valley Fever Advisory Committee to oversee the work; and
  • Establish a grant program to facilitate Valley Fever research by universities, hospitals, and non-profits.

Valley fever (Coccidiomycosis) treatment research funds are extremely limited, in part, because it’s a regional illness (unique to the desert southwest).  If the entire country were susceptible to the illness, there would probably be more private research funds invested because there would be a large commercial market for a treatment. 

Basically, that’s why we need an investment of federal funds and policy, because the return on the research investment for valley fever isn’t adequate to recoup costs of developing a treatment because not enough people are susceptible to the illness (because it’s limited to the desert southwest).

Immigration Status, Public Benefits, Health & Access to Care: A Primer

With all the attention on immigration status and its intersection with public benefits and access to health care- I thought I’d take a crack at summarizing these issues for our membership.  Here goes:

Noncitizens make up about 7%  percent of the US population. It’s not surprising that they’re more likely to be low-income and uninsured than citizens- in part because of the opportunity limitations. In fact, 71% of undocumented adult noncitizens are uninsured.  By and large, many of them rely on Federally Qualified Health Centers for their primary care and other healthcare- in part because FQHCs have sliding fee scale service fees and serve immigrants regardless of their immigration status.

Medicaid generally limits eligibility for immigrants to qualified immigrants with refugee status or veterans and people lawfully present in the US for 5 years or more.  State Medicaid programs can elect to provide coverage to legally present immigrants before the 5-year waiting period ends (Arizona does not).

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (often referred to as PRWORA or welfare reform) is the federal law that created Medicaid’s “qualified immigrant” standard.

Other federal safety net programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) also apply the five-year waiting period for legally present immigrants.

States can get matching funds from Medicaid (CMS) when they choose to provide Medicaid coverage to legally present immigrants who are children or pregnant women before the end of the 5-year waiting period.  33 states have elected to cover lawfully residing immigrant children, and 25 states cover legally present pregnant women (Arizona does not).

The Affordable Care Act made it possible for the legally present immigrants who are ineligible for Medicaid due to being in the five-year waiting period to qualify for commercial coverage and subsidies on the Federal health insurance marketplace.

Immigrants eligible for Medicaid or employer-sponsored insurance face several coverage and service barriers.  As I mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago immigration officials consider the likelihood of individuals and families becoming a “public charge,” which can result in denied admission to the US or status as a lawful permanent resident.

Fear that using safety net services will mean that they’ll be considered a public charge contributes to some families of mixed immigration status avoiding use of services like TANF, Medicaid, SNAP etc.  Some eligible immigrants avoid services because they think family members will become involved in immigration enforcement actions.

Research findings by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that changes in healthcare use and decreased participation in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program because of this immigration policy.

Anyway, it’s a complicated system but I hope this makes it a little clearer.

AZ Vaccination Exemptions Continue to Increase

Despite numerous interventions in the last year designed to improve immunization rates among AZ school children- we continue to lose ground.  Last week the ADHS released their latest school reporting data on vaccine exemption rates (medical, personal and religious).  Here’s a 2 page summary of some of the results.  This year’s report covers the 2017-2018 school year (the data was submitted by the schools to the Department in the Fall of ’17). The data show that:

  • Immunization rates have decreased across age groups from 2012 to 2017;

  • Non-medical exemption rates continue to be highest in public charter schools, followed by private and public schools in 2017; and 

  • Non-medical (e.g. personal and religious) exemption rates have increased from 2016: going from 3.9% to 4.3% for pre-school; 4.9% to 5.4% for Kindergarten and 5.1% to 5.4% among 6th graders.

The Arizona Public Health System has done a remarkable job turning the data reported by schools into actionable information.  My favorite is the Personal Belief Exemptions Map.  Parents can also look up the exemption rates in individual schools.  But there are also data for: Arizona Reporting Schools Coverage; County Kindergarten Coverage; County 6th Grade Coverage; County Child Care Coverage; Whooping Cough Immunization Coverage Map; and a Measles Immunization Coverage Map.

 

Interventions to Reduce Vaccine Exemptions

The ADHS has significantly overhauled their vaccine exemption form to better inform parents about the risks that they are taking for their child and for their child’s classmates and the community by choosing not to vaccinate their kid. Other interventions (by the Arizona Partnership for Immunizations) have included working with school administrators to help parents overcome any barriers that might be preventing them from getting their children vaccinated and by reducing “convenience exemptions,” in which parents sign a waiver because they can’t get their children immunized in time to meet school requirements.

I’ve also heard that there is an Immunization Education Course under development by the ADHS that’s designed to serve in lieu of a new exemptions form has been built and piloted at some schools in Maricopa County.

During the 2015 legislative session, Representative Mendez sponsored HB 2466 which would have required all public schools (including charter schools) to maintain a website to post the rates of their pupils’ immunizations against vaccine preventable diseases.  It never even received a committee hearing.  Back in 2012 a Bill that would have required a doctor’s signature to get a personal exemption failed. 

A couple of years ago California eliminated personal exemptions entirely.  While the rate for personal exemptions rose after the personal exemption was eliminated, a study In study in JAMA back in 2017 found that the rate of medical exemptions for immunizations for incoming kindergartners rose the year after California eliminated the personal-belief exemption, but vaccination rates did improve substantially - especially in high income enclaves that had the highest personal exemption rates. 

By the way- last week the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles found that California didn’t violate freedom of religion or the right to an education when it eliminated most exemptions.  The court said that… “Compulsory immunization has long been recognized as the gold standard for preventing the spread of contagious diseases”.  The court said the new law was not discriminatory and was a valid measure to protect public health.

Policy Update: Family Planning, ACA Lawsuit, Work Requirements and Assault Weapons

Summer & Fall Public Health Activities in AZ

Interested in finding out about the various public health conferences, meetings and events this Summer and Fall?  

Bookmark our AzPHA Upcoming Events webpage.  It’s as simple as that.  If I’ve missed something- let me know at willhumble@azpha.org!

 

Proposed Title X Funding Changes Likely to be a PH Burden

The US Department of Health and Human Services has proposed changes to the rules for the federal family planning services program, known as Title X.  If the new rules are adopted as proposed, it’ll require Title X family planning services to be physically and financially separate from abortion services.

Many family planning clinics offer both family planning and abortion referral services, and if the changes are ultimately implemented many of the programs would likely decide not to take Title X funding, which would have a big impact on the network of available services and they’d have fewer resources available for STD screening, treatment and outreach.

BTW: Title X funds have never been allowed to be used for abortions. The proposed rule is available for public comment until the end of July.  You can read more about the proposed rule and comment by visiting the Federal Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Just follow the instructions to submit.  Your comments might not influence the outcome, but at least you’ll have done your part. That and voting this Fall.

 

Federal Government Won’t Defend the Affordable Care Act in Court

So far, the Affordable Care Act has survived the 2 court challenges that made it to the US Supreme Court.  Back in 2012 the ACA was upheld by the Supreme Court for the first time (by a 5-4 margin) in the National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius case.   It was upheld again in 2015 when (in a 6-3 decision) the Supreme Court upheld ACA’s federal tax credits for eligible Americans living in all 50 states (not just the 34 states with federal marketplaces).

But, there are additional challenges out there that haven’t made it to the Supreme Court yet. One that’s progressing through the courts is a challenge filed by 20 states (including Arizona) arguing that the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional and key parts of the act — including the provisions protecting those with pre-existing conditions — are invalid. 

This week Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged that while "the Executive Branch has a longstanding tradition of defending the constitutionality of duly enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense," the Attorney General will not defend the ACA from this challenge.  

The implications could be profound.  The ACA could potentially be completely overturned- or portions that require health plans to cover pre-existing conditions could be eliminated along with the mandate that persons have health insurance.

 

Medicaid Work/Community Engagement & Reporting Requirements

Any day now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be approving Arizona’s request to include work requirements and/or community engagement and reporting requirements as a condition of Medicaid enrollment.  The request filed by AHCCCS is required by Senate Bill 1092 (from 2015) which requires them to ask CMS’ permission to implement new eligibility requirements for “able-bodied adults”.

AHCCCS initially proposed implementing the following requirements for able-bodied adults receiving Medicaid services including: 1) a requirement for all able-bodied adults to become employed or actively seeking employment or attend school or a job training program; 2) requiring able-bodied adults to verify monthly compliance with the work requirements and any changes in family income; 3) banning an eligible person from enrollment for one year if the eligible person knowingly failed to report a change in family income or made a false statement regarding compliance with the work requirements; and 4) limiting lifetime coverage for all able-bodied adults to five years except for certain circumstances.

Hundreds of comments were submitted (including comments from AzPHA) urging the agency to consider modifications to the initial waiver request.  AHCCCS later issued a final waiver request which includes exemptions for:

  • Those who are at least 55 years old;
  • American Indians;
  • Women up to the end of the month in which the 90th day of post-pregnancy occurs;
  • Former Arizona foster youths up to age 26;
  • People determined to have a serious mental illness (SMI);
  • People receiving temporary or permanent long-term disability benefits from a private insurer or from the government;
  • People determined to be medically frail;
  • Full-time high school students older than 18 years old;
  • Full-time college or graduate students;
  • Victims of domestic violence;
  • Individuals who are homeless;
  • People recently been directly impacted by a catastrophic event such as a natural disaster or the death of a family member living in the same household;
  • Parents, caretaker relatives, and foster parents; or
  • Caregivers of a family member who is enrolled in the Arizona Long Term Care System

A subsequent letter from the AHCCCS Administrator suggested that they (AHCCCS) are suspending their request for a 5-year limitation on lifetime benefits (for some members) for now.  Here’s our letter from back in February of 2017. 

 

Kaiser Family Foundation Issue Brief on Work Medicaid Requirements

Last month the Kaiser Family Foundation published an Issue Brief regarding CMS’ recent decisions to grant states the ability to experiment with their Medicaid programs that condition Medicaid eligibility on work or community engagement. The Issue Brief examines evidence of the effects of the Medicaid expansion and some changes being implemented through waivers.

Many of the findings on the effects of expansion are drawn from the 202 studies included in our comprehensive literature review that includes additional citations on coverage, access, and economic effects of the Medicaid expansion.

Regarding work requirements, the Brief concludes that “state-specific studies in Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania and most recently Montana and Louisiana have documented or predicted significant job growth resulting from expansion. No studies have found negative effects of expansion on employment or employee behavior. In an analysis of Medicaid expansion in Ohio, most expansion enrollees who were unemployed but looking for work reported that Medicaid enrollment made it easier to seek employment, and over half of expansion enrollees who were employed reported that Medicaid enrollment made it easier to continue working.  Another study found an association between Medicaid expansion and increased volunteer work in expansion states.

Furthermore, “work requirements have implications for all populations covered under these demonstrations. Those who are already working will need to successfully document and verify their compliance and those who qualify for an exemption also must successfully document and verify their exempt status, as often as monthly. States would incur costs to pay for the staff and systems to track work verification and exemptions.”

If you’re interested in the public health policy implications of our upcoming work/community engagement and reporting requirements, the KFF Issue Brief is a must-read.

 

Court Challenge to Kentucky’s Work Requirements being Heard this Week

Oral arguments are being heard this week in DC challenging Kentucky’s requirements that members work or participate in "community engagement" activities such as job training, school or volunteering. The case was filed in January by the National Health Law Program, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The outcome could have implications for AZ’s upcoming requirements.

Read National Health Law Program's guide on what to expect from oral argument.

American Medical Association Endorses Assault Weapon Ban

The American Medical Association – Nation’s largest physician group – endorsed a ban on assault weapons as part of a package of measures aimed at combating the epidemic of gun violence in the US. The member driven initiative was endorsed at their annual policy conference. They also endorsed a ban on bump stocks, which basically turn semi-automatic rifles into automatic weapons. 

In a statement AMA Immediate Past President David O. Barbe, MD, MHA said: “People are dying of gun violence in our homes, churches, schools, on street corners and at public gatherings, and it’s important that lawmakers, policy leaders and advocates on all sides seek common ground to address this public health crisis, in emergency rooms across the country, the carnage of gun violence has become a too routine experience.”

 

Legislative Session Wrap-up & Farm Bill Stuff

Arizona’s Legislative Session in the Books

Well, the 2018 Legislative Session is in the books.  All in all, it was a good year for public health at the state level.  Several more good public health-related bills were signed today including:

HB 2324 Voluntary Certification for Community Health Workers

HB 2088 Public Health Guidelines in Schools

HB 2235 Dental Therapy Licensure

SB 1245 SNAP- Fruits and Vegetables

HB2371 Statewide Food Truck Licensing 

I’ll be doing a free Webinar about the legislative session Thursday May 17 at noon with the UA Center for Rural Health & the UA Telemedicine Program. Visit the AZ Telemedicine Program’s Website to register. 

Here's a link to a PowerPoint that summarizes the Victories, Missed Opportunities, Disappointments, and things that were in the final budget that link to public health. It's the ppt that I'll be using during the webinar on Thursday.

 

US Farm Bill: An Opportunity to Leverage Policy to Reduce Obesity

You’ve probably heard about the “Farm Bill” at one point or another.  While it’s called the Farm Bill- it’s not just about farms. It’s the bill that sets the food and agricultural budget and policy for the US. The bill impacts farming livelihood, and also determines how food is grown and which foods are grown.  It was last reauthorized by Congress in 2014 and Congress is now working on a new reauthorization.
 
The 2014 Farm Bill  (the  Agricultural Act of 2014) included some changes and reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.  In Arizona, SNAP benefits help put food on the table for more than one million people each month, with more than half of the benefits going to kids and teens.

The 2014 Farm Bill did a few things that promoted healthier options by requiring SNAP retailers to provide healthy choices. The ’14 law also provided grant programs to encourage people that receive SNAP benefits to buy more fruits and vegetables, provide funding for loan programs for healthy food retailers, and create opportunities for schools to add different kinds of vegetables as part of school menus.

We’re hoping that Stakeholders like us can better leverage the Farm Bill to improve healthy eating this time around now that we have a member of our delegation on the Agriculture Committee.  Arizona District 1 Congressman Tom O'Halleran is on the House committee. 

Back when I was at the ADHS we worked with ASU on a report to provide information to Congress about how SNAP could be leveraged to improve healthy eating.  The full report has the details but here are a few of the concepts in the evidence review:

  • Improving access to healthy food by establishing guidelines requiring SNAP vendors to carry more healthier options

  • Establishing nutrition standards for foods that qualify for purchase using SNAP benefits.  Right now, SNAP benefits can be used for basically any retail food no matter how unhealthy it is (alcohol can’t be purchased with SNAP benefits). 

  •  Making changes to the SNAP education program to incorporate evidence based public health practices to bring about sustained changes in participant behavior.

Rather than strengthen the food quality requirements, the bill currently being debated by the House Agriculture Committee would expand the existing SNAP work requirements.  Right now, SNAP requires childless adults between 18 and 49 who don’t have disabilities to work or be in work training to qualify. The draft legislation would expand the work requirement to include adults up to 59 and people who care for children older than 6. The draft bill also would set tighter time frames for recipients to find work and stiffen the penalties if they don’t.

SNAP recipients covered under the work requirement would have to document that they are working or getting job training for 20 hours a week. The first time an individual doesn’t comply with that requirement would trigger a loss of benefits for a year. Failing to comply again would result in being locked out of SNAP for three years.

The proposed changes would increase state costs by requiring states to collect monthly information from most SNAP users about their hours worked, their hours of participation in work programs, and the reasons they may not be working in a work program. 

The APHA has set up a way that you can Contact your representative today and urge them to include nutrition standards for foods to qualify for purchase under SNAP and also to comment about the new proposed work/work training requirements.

 

Sonoran Prevention Works Scores Syringe Access Grant

Sonoran Prevention Works received a $125,000 grant from the Vitalyst Health Foundation  to support advocacy and education for syringe access programs – a proven harm reduction strategy in response to the opioid crisis and rising hepatitis-C and HIV infection rates. They’ll be partnering with the University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson and Creosote Partners to destigmatize syringe access programs and understand the comprehensive needs of people who inject drugs.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will also work with Sonoran Prevention Works to implement a needle stick prevention program and to educate law enforcement on injection drug use. These partnerships will work to support policy change that treats substance use as a public health issue.