Medicaid

It’s Switchover Time at the Legislature

The week before last was the deadline for bills to be heard in their chamber of origin- and much of last week’s action was on floor votes (called Third Read).  When a bill clears the House or Senate (having a 3rd reading with a recorded vote of the body) it’s transmitted to the other body of the legislature (the switchover). At that point, it gets 1st and 2nd read and assigned to a committee (s). Then it’s up to the chair to schedule the bill.

If heard, then it gets voted on and gets thru that body. If there are no changes, it’s sent back to its original body who then transmits it to the Governor. If there are changes the bill, goes back to the originating body to decide if they accept the changes. If they do, they’ll be a final read and recorded vote before transmitting to the Governor. If they don’t agree then it goes to conference committee. It can be a “simple” conference where the choice is the House or the Senate version. Most are free conference committees in which there are 3 members per body who serve.

Conference committees usually don’t take testimony.  The meetings are open but there’s usually only announcements from the floor to know when the group meets.  If there’s finally agreement, it goes back for acceptance of the conference report and a final vote by each side before it goes to the Governor.

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Lots of action last week with lots of 3rd read floor votes in the Senate. The House isn’t as far along in finishing 3rd reads.  This week we'll mostly be watching the 3rd Read votes.  We'd really like to get the hand free cell use bill, the syringe services bill, the GME bill and the e-cigarette smoke free AZ act bill through their chambers this week. Here's our document with all the particulars on bills this week.

Public health can breathe a little sigh of relief now that the Governor made it clear that he doesn’t   intend to sign any bill that would lower vaccination rates. We're already gambling with the lives of infants, people with disabilities, and immune optimized folks because of the erosion in our immunization rates and any of the 3 anti-vaccine bills this year (HB 2470, HB 2471, or HB  2472 would have done just that. 

We need public health policy decisions that improve vaccination rates, not decisions that put vulnerable people at even more risk.  With the Governor’s statements this we can now focus more of our efforts on the other (mostly good) public health policy bills out there.

 

Bills that Passed through the House or Senate

Access to Care & Healthcare Workforce

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

Passed the Senate 27-3.  This bill would expand AHCCCS covered services to include comprehensive dental coverage during pregnancy and appropriate the required state match funding. Good oral health is well established to improve birth outcomes including reducing pre-term birth while also preventing the transmission of caries from mom to infant after birth.  This priority bill was passed by the Senate this week and has been transferred to the House. Note that since this bull would have a needed appropriation it will need to be included in the final state budget.

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

This Bill would put into law specific standards requiring non-Medicaid insurance companies to cover telemedicine.  There are criteria and standards in the law regarding contracting standards. Requires that coverage for telemedicine healthcare services if the service is covered when delivered in-person.   This bill would be good for access to care especially in rural Arizona which is why we’re supporting it. Passed 30-0.

SB 1174 Tribal Area Health Education Center

Health Education System consists of five area health education centers each representing a geographic area with specified populations that currently lack services by the health care professions.  The current regional centers include: 1) Eastern Arizona AHEC; 2) Greater Valley AHEC; 3) Northern Arizona AHEC; 4) Southeast Arizona AHEC; and 5) Western Arizona AHEC/Regional Center for Border Health.  This bill adds an area health education center that would focus on tribal areas and the Indian health care delivery system. Passed 30-0.  

SB 1355 Native American Dental Care

Passed Senate 25-5.  Requires AHCCCS to seek federal authorization to reimburse the Indian health services and tribal facilities to cover the cost of adult dental services.

** 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.

 

Licensing & Vital Records

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

Passed the Senate 30-0. 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. 

 

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

Passed the Senate 30-0. 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)

 

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

This bill will make it clear that both state and county Registrars can provide certified copies of death certificates to licensed funeral home directors upon request.  There’s been some confusion about this authority and this bill would clear it up.   Passed the Senate 30-0.

Tobacco & Nicotine

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. Passed the Senate 30-0.

Surveillance & Social Determinants

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

Passed House 46-13.  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. Passed 46-13 and has moved over to the Senate.

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

Requires ADHS to annually compile a report on veteran suicides beginning January 1, 2020. The data in the report would be shared across the public health system and with the VA and will hopefully include surveillance results that are actionable to prevent veteran suicides.

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

This bill would require the Child Fatality Review Team subcommittee on maternal mortality to make recommendations on improving information collection. Passed the Senate 30-0.

Bills that Still Need to Have a Final (3rd Read) First Chamber Vote

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.  Violations are a civil $ penalty (no driving points) with the first offense being between $75- $150 and the 2nd offense between $150 and $250.  The bill would provide a state overlay so the cell phone use laws would no longer be different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We’re signed up in support of this bill.  This bill still needs to go to Committee of the Whole and get a Senate 3rd read.

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

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.  Approved by the International Affairs Study Committee this week.  Did not receive a hearing in Rules yet, we’ll work with stakeholders to get it heard in Rules.

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

This bill appropriates $50M from the General Fund to AHCCCS, UA Health Science Center, ADHS and the to address the state-wide shortage of physicians and nurses.  The bill has several elements with a rural focus. Elements include $20M for Graduate Medical Education in critical-access hospitals and community health centers in rural areas and $4M for the ADHS’ health practitioners loan repayment system. Many elements will be very good for access to care in rural AZ.  Bill still needs a final vote in the Senate and of course – since it’s a money bill it’ll need to go through the budget process.

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

Includes e-cigarettes in the definition of tobacco products and smoking for the purposes of the Smoke Free Arizona Act.  Allows smoking in retail stores that sell electronic smoking devices exclusively and have an independent ventilation system.  Because the Act was voter approved- this modification to the law will require a 3/4 majority of both houses.  This bill still needs to go to Committee of the Whole and get a Senate 3rd read.

SB 1456 Vision Screening- AzPHA Position: Yes

This bill would require schools to provide vision screening services to students in grades prescribed by future ADHS rules, kids being considered for special education services, and students who are not reading at grade level by the third grade. Appropriates $100,000 from the state General Fund to the ADHS for the tracking and follow up.  This bill still needs to go to Committee of the Whole and get a Senate 3rd read.

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.  Bill is likely dead but we’re remaining vigilant and will work with Stakeholders like TAPI to hold it back in the House.

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.   Bill is likely dead but we’re remaining vigilant and will work with Stakeholders like TAPI to hold it back in the House.

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.  Bill is likely dead but we’re remaining vigilant and will work with Stakeholders like TAPI to hold it back in the House.

Good Bills that are Effectively Dead

Unless a miracle happens- this is the last time you’ll see me mention the bills below in my policy updates

SB 1363  Tobacco Product Sales (Tobacco 21) (Carter)

HB 2162  Vaccine Personal Exemptions (Hernandez)

HB 2352 School Nurse and Immunization Postings (Butler)

HB 2172  Rear Facing Car Seats (Bolding)

HB 2246  Motorcycle Helmets (Friese)

SB 1219  Domestic Violence Offenses & Firearm Transfer

HB 2247  Bump Stocks (Friese)

HB 2248  Firearm Sales (Friese)

HB 2161  Order of Protection (Hernandez)

SB 1119 Tanning Studios (Mendez)

HB 2347  Medicaid Buy-in (Butler)

HB 2351  Medical Services Study Committee (Butler)

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.

“AHCCCS Works” Reporting System RFP

A few weeks ago CMS approved Arizona’s request to include work requirements and/or community engagement and reporting requirements as a condition of Medicaid enrollment beginning on January 1, 2020.  CMS’ Letter to Director Snyder is 18 pages long and contains conditions and details- so refer to that letter for the nuts and bolts of what they said.

The work requirement/community engagement Waiver request was mandated by Senate Bill 1092 (from 2015) which requires AHCCCS to ask CMS’ permission to implement new eligibility requirements for “able-bodied adults”. 

The work/community engagement requirements (which begin 1/1/20) will require some “able-bodied” members between the ages of 19 to 49 years-old to participate in community engagement activities for at least 80 hours per month and report their activities monthly.  Activities can include employment, including self-employment; less than full-time education; job or life skills training; job search activities; and community service.

A member who fails to comply in any given month will be suspended from AHCCCS coverage for 2-months but automatically reinstated after that. Members won't be terminated for failing to comply.

There are several categories of folks that will be exempted from the requirements – you can see that full list in a previous blog post.

A few weeks ago, AHCCCS released a Request for Proposal (SOLICITATION # YH19-0028) to find a vendor to develop the system that AHCCCS members would use to report community engagement activities, work activities, report exclusions, and/or to notify AHCCCS why they haven’t met the work/community engagement requirements. The solicitation reminds bidders that the system has to communicate via file transfer or web interfaces with their eligibility and enrollment system and connect to the “AZTECS” system so it can identify members that are participating in SNAP or Cash assistance eligibility.   Bids are due February 19, 2019.

Hopefully AHCCCS will find a solid vendor that will deliver a system that is easy to use for AHCCCS members with an intuitive interface, easy to use functions, and very accurate connectivity with other databases so that members will have an easy time reporting their compliance with the new requirements.

Check Out AzPHA's Position on Multiple Bills

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’ve taken public positions on the www.azleg.gov website on more than 20 bills with links to public health.  Below is a quick summary of those bills and the positions that AzPHA has taken.

Tobacco Bills

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. Passed the Senate Health & Human Services Committee last Wednesday.

HB 2024 Electronic Cigarettes. Smoke Free Arizona Act (Kavanaugh) – AzPHA Position: YES

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) – AzPHA Position: Opposed

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 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.

SB 1363 Tobacco Product Sales (Tobacco 21) (Carter) - AzPHA Position: YES

Tis bill would move the tobacco product (and e-cigarette) buy age to 21.  Bill includes definitions and criteria as well as penalties for vendors that sell to people under 21.

 

Maternal & Child Health

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. This bill passed the Senate Health Committee 8-0 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. This bill passed the Senate Health Committee 8-0 this week!

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

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.

 

Vaccines

HB 2162 Vaccine Personal Exemptions (Hernandez) -  AzPHA Position: Yes

This bill would remove the personal exemption option for parents to enroll in school when the child hasn’t had all the required school attendance immunizations.

HB 2352 School Nurse and Immunization Postings (Butler) – AzPHA Position: Yes

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.

SB 1115 and HB 2471 Informed Consent (Boyer, Barto) - AzPHA Position: Opposed

These bills 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.

HB  2472 and SB 1116 Vaccinations- Antibody Titer (Boyer, 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. 

 

Injury Prevention

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.

HB 2069 Texting and Driving (Kavanaugh) - AzPHA Position: Supporting SB 1165

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) - AzPHA Position: Supporting SB 1165

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) - AzPHA Position: YES

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) – AzPHA Position YES

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) – AzPHA Position: Yes

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

SB 1219 Domestic Violence Offenses & Firearm Transfer AzPHA Position: Yes

Persons that have been adjudicated and the court rules that they may not possess a firearm must surrender their firearms to a law enforcement agency.  The law enforcement agency may then dispose of the firearm(s) in accordance with law.  People that have an Order of Protection against them must also surrender their firearms, although the law enforcement agency must return the firearm when the Order expires (after a background check).

HB 2247 Bump Stocks (Friese) – AzPHA Position: Yes

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

HB 2248 Firearm Sales (Friese) – AzPHA Position: Yes

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

HB 2161 Order of Protection (Hernandez) AzPHA Position: Undetermined

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) AzPHA Position: Undetermined

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 Services Programs (Rivero) AzPHA Position: Yes

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) – AzPHA Position YES

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

Agency Administration

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.

HB 2004 Nuclear Management Fund (Kavanaugh) – AzPHA Position: Undetermined

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) - AzPHA Position: Undetermined

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) – AzPHA Position: YES

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 & Private Insurance Coverage

HB 2347 Medicaid Buy-in (Butler) AzPHA Position: Undetermined

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) – AzPHA Position: YES

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) – AzPHA Position: Yes

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) - AzPHA Position: Undetermined

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) - AzPHA Position: Yes

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

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

This Bill would put into law specific standards requiring non-Medicaid insurance companies to cover telemedicine.  There are criteria and standards in the law regarding contracting standards. Note: this is all Title 20 language and does not apply to Medicaid (AHCCCS).

Food Safety & Insecurity

HB 2178  Milk Manufacturing License Exemption - AzPHA Position: Undetermined

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) AzPHA Position: Yes

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) – AzPHA Position: YES

Makes a supplemental appropriation of $500,000 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.  An additional $500K would be appropriated to pay off education loans taken out by physicians, dentists, pharmacists, advance practice providers and behavioral health providers participating in the rural private primary care provider loan repayment program.

HB 2376  Associated Health Plans (Barto) AzPHA Position: Undetermined

An association health plan is authorized to operate in Arizona if the plan is following 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) AzPHA Position: YES

Synchronizes 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 clearer in state law that extracts and preparations are included in the Act.

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.

CMS Approves Work Requirement/Community Engagement & Prior Quarter Coverage Elimination Waivers; Denies 5-Year Eligibility Limit

Last week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved Arizona’s request to include work requirements and/or community engagement and reporting requirements as a condition of Medicaid enrollment beginning on January 1, 2020.  CMS also approved the request to eliminate prior quarter coverage eligibility effective April 1, 2019.  An accompanying directed waiver request to limit lifetime Medicaid eligibility to 5 years for “able-bodied adults” was denied by CMS. 

CMS’ Letter to Director Snyder is 18 pages long and contains conditions and details- so refer to that letter for the nuts and bolts of what they said.

The work requirement/community engagement Waiver request was filed many months ago and is mandated by Senate Bill 1092 (from 2015) which requires AHCCCS to ask CMS’ permission to implement new eligibility requirements for “able-bodied adults”. 

The program will require some “able-bodied” members between the ages of 19 to 49 years-old to participate in community engagement activities for at least 80 hours per month and report their activities monthly.  Activities can include employment, including self-employment; less than full-time education; job or life skills training; job search activities; and community service.

A member who fails to comply in any given month will be suspended from AHCCCS coverage for 2-months but automatically reinstated after that. Members won't be terminated for failing to comply.

The people exempted from the requirements include:

  • Pregnant women up to the 60th day post-pregnancy

  • Former Arizona foster youth up to age 26

  • Members of federally recognized tribes

  • Designated caretakers of a child under age 18

  • Caregivers who are responsible for the care of an individual with a disability

  • Members determined to have a serious mental illness (SMI)

  • Members who are “medically frail”

  • Members who have an acute medical condition

  • Members who are in active treatment for a substance use disorder

  • Members with a disability recognized under federal law and individuals receiving long term disability benefits

  • Full-time high school, college, or trade school students

  • Survivors of domestic violence

  • People who are homeless

  • People who receive assistance through SNAP, Cash Assistance or Unemployment Insurance or who participate in another AHCCCS-approved work program

Many things need to happen before the January 1, 2020 start date.  We’re hopeful that a robust evaluation component will be included in the program so that adjustments can be made to the policy over time and so that other states can learn from the Arizona experiment.

Intermediate Care Facilities Like Hacienda de los Angeles are Exempt from State Licensing Requirements

By now you’ve heard the disturbing story of a 29-year-old resident of Hacienda de los Angeles who gave birth a couple of weeks ago. What’s troubling about the birth is that the mother was unable to give consent because of the nature of her medical condition. In short, it means she was raped and delivered a baby while under the care of Hacienda de los Angeles.

Quite honestly, it’s astonishing that the facility and its staff apparently failed to detect – or report -- the sexual assault or pregnancy until after the baby was born and in medical distress.  Arizona law (ARS 46-464) requires people that have responsibility to care for a vulnerable adult to report any abuse or neglect that they suspect.  Failure to report is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

With such resources now deployed with the various investigations including the Phoenix Police Department, we will eventually most likely learn whether Hacienda staff knew but did not report the pregnancy or whether the care being provided was such that staff did not discover the pregnancy until the woman gave birth.  

Arizona and local law enforcement officials are investigating the matter – but they may be impeded by this troubling fact: Hacienda de los Angeles isn’t required to have a state license (and doesn’t have one).

How is this possible?

Hacienda de los Angeles is classified as an intermediate care for persons with intellectual disabilities. Facilities in this class provide more intensive services than a residential group home for persons with intellectual disabilities but different services than a skilled nursing facility.

When I learned through the media of the assault and birth, I went to the ADHS’ AZ Care Check    website to look at the regulatory compliance record for the facility. I was puzzled when I discovered that the facility didn’t have an ADHS License number. They have an identifying number for their Certification to get paid by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) -- but no state license.

In digging deeper- I discovered that this class of facility doesn’t require a license from the ADHS.  They are specifically exempt. The exact statutory language is located in ARS 36-591(E) where it states that: “An intermediate care facility for persons with an intellectual disability that is operated by the division or a private entity is not required to be licensed under this section if the facility is certified pursuant to 42 Code of Federal Regulations section 483.400”.

That’s not to say that there’s no oversight of the facility.  There is. ADHS has conducted annual certification inspections under a contract from CMS every year for the last several years, and you can see that there are several deficiencies that have been identified (and corrected) over time.

What’s problematic is that the state has no direct regulatory authority over the facility because they’re not required to have a state license (if they’re CMS certified).  That means there’s no direct mechanism to compel compliance with state care regulations – because there’s no license to suspend, put on provisional status, or to revoke. 

With information that will be discovered in the coming days and weeks, the federal government could elect to decertify the facility and to no longer pay for services provided there, and/or our state Medicaid agency could decide to no longer approve placement of their members at the facility- but the state has no direct authority to compel compliance -- again, because there’s no state license to use as leverage to compel compliance with state licensing requirements.

Intermediate care facilities were exempt from state licensing requirements back in 1997 when HB 2247 was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Hull.

Perhaps this case provides an opportunity for our state elected officials to re-examine the wisdom of exempting intermediate care facilities from having a state license.

Maternal Mortality: A Tragic Trend Continues in the US and AZ

The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country.  Sadly, it’s getting worse each year.  About 800 American women die and 65,000 almost die during pregnancy or childbirth.

The number of deaths in AZ jumped from around 10 in 2015 to about 30 in 2016 (the last year for which ADHS has data posted). The numbers are rounded for statistical reasons (called cell suppression in the public health statistics trade.)

Nationally, back women die from pregnancy-related causes at three to four times the rate of white women, even after controlling for social determinants. Women in rural areas also have higher maternal mortality rates than urban women.  Here’s a story that highlights some of the issues in an easy to read way.

Fortunately, there are public health policy leverage points that can make a difference within state health departments and Medicaid agencies.  Medicaid is a leverage point because it pays for over half of all births each year in 25 states including Arizona.  

All states provide Medicaid coverage for women with incomes up to 133% of poverty during pregnancy and for 60 days after delivery.  But the scope of services covered before and after delivery vary between states.  As a result, some women lose coverage or Medicaid eligibility in certain states after that 60-day period (mostly in states without Medicaid expansion).

In Medicaid expansion states (like AZ) women have more opportunities to achieve better preconception health because they’re more likely to be able to access contraception and plan their pregnancies, receive primary care services to manage chronic conditions prior to and between pregnancies and access prenatal and perinatal care once pregnant.

Evidence-based policy making is a key.  Twenty-nine states (including Arizona) have committees that review maternal deaths and make public policy recommendations.  Back in 2011, Arizona passed, and the Governor signed a bill that amended our child fatality review statutes by adding reviews of maternal deaths.

The statute charges our existing Child Fatality State Teams to review maternal deaths (called the Maternal Mortality Review Subcommittee) and make policy recommendations. The primary goal is to identify preventive factors and make recommendations for systems change. The existing statute doesn't require an annual report- and the last report was published in 2017. Note: we've heard that there may be a Bill this session that will require an annual report of the committee's work.

Here are some of the recommendations from the most recent ADHS report (published in 2017):

  • All pregnant women should have access to prenatal care;

  • Encourage maternal care professionals, organizations, and health facilities to update their standards of practice and care to include all recommended guidelines for the prevention of medical complications;

  • Promote public awareness of the importance of healthy behaviors and women’s overall health prior to pregnancy;

  • Women should always wear proper restraints when riding in cars;

  • Maternal health-care systems require strengthened, prepared, and educated communities to improve deliveries in health facilities, particularly in rural areas;

  • Increase and streamline access to behavioral health services statewide, including training and education for advanced practice nurses in behavioral health services;

  • Support and implement community suicide prevention and awareness programs, such as Mental Health First Aid;

  • Health care providers should screen frequently for perinatal depression and domestic violence;

  • Institute and follow recommended California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative guidelines (www.cmqcc.org) for the timely transfer and transport to a higher-level care facility for any complications using regional transport services; and 

  • Educate providers on the availability of maternal postpartum resources such as home visiting programs.

Some states have gone further. For example, South Carolina’s Medicaid agency formed the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative to advance reductions in early elective deliveries; incentivize Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment; promote long-acting reversible contraception; and support vaginal births.  One outcome of the SC initiative was to reimburse for long-acting birth control (LARC) devices provided in a hospital setting. 

Fortunately, Arizona has also included LARC reimbursement in a hospital setting post-partum.  This is an important policy intervention because it provides women with a long-acting and reversible option, so they can better plan future pregnancies – improving opportunities for preconception health, which is a key to improving health outcomes.

The Intersection of Public Health and Housing

Affordable, safe, and stable housing directly impacts an individual’s health and well-being and improves people’s ability to manage chronic diseases and mental conditions, access education and employment, and build healthy relationships.  Persons that are homeless face illness at three to six times the rate of housed individuals and are three to four times more likely to prematurely die than the general population.

Ensuring that patients have stable housing can also reduce healthcare costs.  An analysis of Oregon Medicaid claims data found people placed in stable and affordable housing reduced their overall Medicaid expenditures by 12%. Housing placement also correlated with a 20% increase in primary care visits and an 18% decrease in emergency department visitations among Oregon Medicaid members. 

It’s no surprise then that hospitals and health systems are increasingly interested in supporting access to stable and quality housing as a strategy to reduce downstream healthcare spending, especially as they move toward value-based payment models.

CMS is catching on too.  A couple of years ago they released a bulletin emphasizing the importance of designing Medicaid benefits packages that incorporate the social determinants of health. They outlined allowable coverage of housing-related activities and services for individuals with disabilities and older adults requiring long-term services and supports, like conducting individual tenant housing assessments, assisting with the housing search and application process, or offering tenancy sustaining services.

Last month the HHS Secretary suggested that CMS will be introducing a payment model allowing hospitals to directly pay for housing and other social services using federal Medicaid dollars. The statement suggests that this shift stems from a broader interest in better alignment between health and human services and that such a model would be tested by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).

While direct spending on room and board still isn’t allowed under the Medicaid statute, several state Medicaid programs are pursuing demonstration waivers that allow for innovations or flexibilities in Medicaid-managed care programs to address housing needs or other social determinants of health.

North Carolina recently received approval of its Section 1115 waiver which will allow their Medicaid managed care contractors to cover evidence-based, non-medical interventions that have a direct impact on members health outcomes and costs. The pilots will be implemented regionally to address housing, food security, transportation, employment, and interpersonal safety. I think North Carolina is the first state to receive this type of waiver, but I'm not 100% sure about that.

CMMI is also exploring the impact of screening and referrals for health-related social needs (including housing) of Medicaid and Medicare dual beneficiaries. They’ll be measuring whether screenings and referrals to community-based organizations and social services generate improvements in health outcomes and reductions in healthcare spending. The model is being piloted through 31 organizations in 23 states including at AHCCCS.

Jami Snyder Appointed AHCCCS Director

Jami Snyder was appointed to the post of the Director of AHCCCS effective this Friday.  She has been serving as the as deputy director of AHCCCS since December of 2017. Prior to that she was the Medicaid Director in Texas and as Chief Operating Officer of the University of Arizona Health Plans. She also previously held posts as  a Bureau Chief at the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

Jami is a 2013 Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy Fellow, and graduated with a BS in political science from Gustavus Adolphus College and went on to earn a master’s degree in political science from ASU.

I really think Jami is a terrific choice for this important job. She has a good reputation in the public health world and is known as somebody that understands the linkages that public health and health care can forge in designing and implementing interventions that improve public health outcomes while reducing costs.

Congratulations Director Snyder! 

US Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal Regarding Reproductive Health

This week the US Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would have given them an opportunity to overturn a lower court ruling that found that Medicaid agencies can’t exclude providers offering preventive reproductive health services like annual health screens, contraceptive coverage and cancer screening because they also offer abortion services.  Lower federal courts had ruled that while states have broad authority to ensure that Medicaid health care providers are qualified, that power has limits. 

The case isn’t about elective abortion services per se (the Hyde Amendment from 1977 makes it clear that federal funds can’t be used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment). The question is whether providers can be excluded from Medicaid contracts for preventive services like annual health screens, contraceptive coverage and cancer screening because they also separately offer abortion services outside of their public dollar contracts. 

The Supreme Court’s decision to decline the case will have implications here in Arizona. In 2016, Governor Ducey signed a bill giving the director of the AHCCCS the power (at his or her discretion) to disqualify any provider that doesn’t fully segregate the public dollars they get and ensure that none of those funds went toward providing elective abortions- including overhead expenses like rent, lights and A/C.

While that law is still on the books (as ARS 36-2930.05), it hasn’t been implemented. After a lawsuit was filed back in '16, attorneys for AHCCCS agreed not to implement the law and stipulated that AHCCCS won’t try to cut family planning dollars from Planned Parenthood or any other organization because it hasn’t fully segregated out the costs of abortion services to the satisfaction of the director.  The implementation hold agreed to in the stipulation was until Rules (Administrative Code) could be adopted- which they estimated would take about 2 years.

In exchange, the attorneys for the providers agreed to drop their lawsuit challenging the legality of the measure until there are actual rules in place.  I checked on the AHCCCS and Secretary of State’s website and can’t find any Rules fleshing out the criteria- but I might have missed them.

In any event- the fact that the US Supreme Court this week declined to hear a case similar to Arizona’s suggests that- at least for now- the status quo remains...  and Arizona’s Managed Care Organizations that contract with AHCCCS are free to contract with Planned Parenthood or other providers even though they may not be segregating expenses as required in ARS 36-2930.05.Of course- that could change at any time if the Supreme Court changes their mind and agrees to hear a similar case in the future.

Public Health Ballot Measures Approved in Other States

Here’s a summary of what voters approved in other states that link to public health policy.  There are a few surprises in here- at least things that I found surprising.

Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah voted to expand their Medicaid programs (up to 138% of the federal poverty level).  Idaho’s Proposition 2 was approved by 61% of voters and Nebraska’s passed with 53% approval (called Initiative 427 to expand Medicaid). Interestingly, neither of those states established a funding mechanism.  

Utah’s Proposition 3 was approved by 54% of voters and funds the expansion with a 0.15% increase to the state’s sales tax. There are now 14 states  left that haven’t expanded Medicaid.  With gubernatorial party changes in Wisconsin & Kansas perhaps those states may be next.

Proposals related to marijuana were on the ballot in five states. Utah voters approved a medical marijuana initiative (Proposition 2) by a 53-47 percent margin. Interestingly, it will be a strictly “edibles” based program (prohibits the medical marijuana). 

Missouri voters approved Amendment 2 (with 66% of the vote) that gives the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services oversight of the state’s new medical marijuana program. 

Michigan approved a measure to allowing adults to use marijuana for non-medical purposes and a retail sale program.  Proposal 18-1 directs Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to oversee the commercial production and retail sale of marijuana. 

Wisconsin Medicaid Work Requirement Approved

CMS approved Wisconsin’s Medicaid work requirement waiver, making them the 5th state to have their work requirement waiver approved.  Wisconsin is the 1st state to receive approval for work requirements since a federal court ruled them unconstitutional in Kentucky.

Medicaid members between the ages of 19 and 49 will be required to work, volunteer, be in school or in a job training program for at least 80 hours a month. Recipients who don’t comply after 48 months will lose their eligibility.  The state is also allowed to charge premiums for what is normally free and to raise those premiums for people with riskier health behaviors like smoking.

Of the four other states CMS has given the greenlight to, only Arkansas has implemented work requirements. Indiana and New Hampshire will start enforcing them in January, and Kentucky's have been sent back to CMS for review.

Arizona’s Work Requirement Request

A 2015 AZ law requires AHCCCS to annually ask the CMS for permission to require work (or work training) and income reporting for “able bodied adults” and a 5-year lifetime limit on AHCCCS eligibility. 

Late last year AHCCCS submitted their annual official waiver request including a requirement to become employed, actively seek employment, attend school, or partake in Employment Support and Development activities (with exceptions) and a requirement to bi-annually verify compliance with the requirements and any changes in family income.  CMS hasn't yet ruled on the AZ request.

HB 2228 requires AHCCCS to exempt of tribal members from the work requirements but CMS has suggested that they won’t be approving waiver requests that exempt tribal members because they believe exempting them could raise civil rights issues.  

For now it's status quo.

New Federal Opioid Intervention Becomes Law

A couple weeks ago congress passed and the president signed the Substance Use Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act. Much like Arizona’s Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act – approval of the bill was bipartisan, with a House vote of 393-8 and 98-1 in the Senate.

The final bill creates, expands and reauthorizes programs and policies across several federal agencies, and focuses on prevention, treatment and recovery. The text of the Act is extremely long, but you can view a high level summary on this landing page.

Some of the provisions are in line with recommendations in the 2017 ADHS Opioid Response Report like calling for changing an old federal regulation that prohibited Medicaid from covering patients with substance abuse disorders who were getting treatment in a mental health facility with more than 16 beds. The effect of the former law limited the number of beds available for low-income patients suffering from addiction- so hopefully the network of treatment facilities will expand as a result of this change in the law. The new federal law allows for 30 days of residential treatment coverage.

The new law allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine, which is an anti-addiction medication that requires a special license and extra training.  For the next 5 years, it will also allow nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists to prescribe buprenorphine.  Right now, only about 5% of doctors are licensed to prescribe it.  It’ll take time for the inventory of prescribers to increase because of the training that’s required- but over time this provision will help network capacity especially in rural areas.

The Act also creates a grant program for comprehensive recovery centers that include housing and job training, as well as mental and physical health care. It will also increase access to medication-assisted treatment.

Some aspects of that law that relate to Medicaid include:

  • Temporarily requires coverage of medication-assisted treatment under Medicaid;

  • Prohibiting the termination of Medicaid eligibility for juveniles who are inmates of public institutions;

  • Requiring CMS to establish a demonstration project to increase provider treatment capacity for substance-use disorders;

  • Requiring state Medicaid programs to establish drug management programs and drug-review and utilization requirements for at-risk members; and

  • Extending enhanced federal matching rate for expenditures regarding substance-use disorder health-home services under Medicaid.

Interestingly, the bill includes a provision to help stop the flow of black-market opioids into the country by mail, especially synthetic fentanyl and its analogs.  The US Postal Service will need to provide the name and address of the sender and the contents of at least 70% percent of all international packages, and 100% of packages from China.

All international shipments will need to have the name and address of the sender by the end of 2020.  The Postal Service was also given the authority to block or destroy shipments for which the information isn’t provided.

The Substance Use Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act is long and comprehensive so I can’t cover everything….  But the bottom line is that public health policy – both here in AZ and now nationally is beginning to address the epidemic.

More States Implementing School-based Nutrition & Physical Activity Policies

Obesity remains a complex health issue in the United States. Several factors—including behavioral, environmental, and genetic—interact and contribute to increasing obesity rates. Approximately 19% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years old are obese and face a greater risk of developing chronic and other conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, asthma, and sleep apnea. By 2012, the estimated annual cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion, in addition to other social and emotional costs.

The causes of childhood obesity include unavailability of healthy food options, easy access to unhealthy foods, lack of physical activity, as well as policy and environmental factors that do not support healthy lifestyles. Schools play a significant role in diet and activity through the foods and drinks offered and the opportunities for physical activity provided.

Recognizing the unique position of schools, states have enacted and proposed legislation to prevent and reduce childhood obesity by: (1) ensuring that nutritious food and beverages are available at schools, and (2) establishing physical activity and education standards at schools. Below is an overview of current laws and recent state and territorial legislative activities to increase the availability of healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity in schools.

School Nutrition Legislation

Children and adolescents consume much of the food they need each day while at school. Children may receive meals from federal programs like the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, or they may purchase competitive food and drinks (i.e., food that’s purchased from school-based vending machines, snack bars, or concessions outside of the school’s food service program). Many states have adopted policies to make competitive foods healthier, set limits on food for rewards, and impose restrictions on food and beverage marketing in schools.

A Colorado statute prohibits public schools from making available any food or beverage that contains any amount of industrially produced trans-fat on school grounds. In Kentucky, each school must limit access to retail fast foods in cafeterias to no more than one day each week. Laws in New Jersey prohibit the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value, all food and beverage items listing sugar as the first ingredient, and all forms of candy on school property during the school day.

In 2017, California’s governor approved a bill limiting the advertisement of food and beverages during the school day in schools, school districts, or charter schools participating in federal lunch and breakfast programs. California also prohibited participation in corporate incentive programs that reward children with food and beverages that do not comply with nutrition standards. New Hampshire proposed similar legislation prohibiting the advertisement of any food or beverage that does not meet the minimum nutrition standards as set forth by the school district, as well as participation in a corporate incentive program that rewards children with food and beverages.

Recognizing that many schools lack the necessary equipment to support the storage, preparation, and service of minimally processed and whole foods, the Washington State legislature introduced a bill that would establish a competitive equipment assistance grant program for public schools to improve the quality of food service meals that meet federal dietary guidelines and increase the consumption of whole foods. In 2017, Puerto Rico proposed a bill requiring that vending machines located in public schools only contain products of high nutritional value according to the standards imposed by the federal government.

Physical Activity Legislation

According to CDC, children and adolescents should have one hour or more of physical activity every day. State policymakers often target physical activity and education curriculums in K-12 schools to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. Promising trends include: improving physical education curricula, integrating physical activity into the school day and maximizing recess opportunities, as well as enhancing physical activity opportunities in school-based after-school programs.

Many states have statutes in place or have proposed legislation imposing physical activity and education requirements in schools. Last legislative session, Arizona approved a new law mandating that public schools include recess in their curriculum. Other states have gone further. 

Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas require 30 minutes of physical activity each school day. Arkansas requires 90 minutes of physical activity each week for grades K-6. South Carolina sets a minimum standard of 150 minutes per week for grades K-5. Colorado requires 600 minutes of physical activity each month for full-time elementary students.  Tennessee amended its statute to require a minimum of 130 minutes of physical activity per full school week for elementary school students and a minimum of 90 minutes for middle and high school students.

National Medicaid Performance Measures for Kids Released

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program serve nearly 46 million children which is 33% of the kids in the US- which means that these programs are a huge leverage point for improving health outcomes.  Measuring the effectiveness of these programs is critical to improving their performance and in providing the information needed to design policy interventions.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services plays a key role in promoting quality health care and as part of their accountability standards they have a core set of health care quality measures for children in Medicaid and CHIP that by applying a standardized set of measures designed to measure and improve the quality of care. 

The 2017 Child Core Set includes 27 measures among the following domains of care: 1) Primary Care Access and Preventive Care; 2) Maternal and Perinatal Health; 3) Care of Acute and Chronic Conditions; 4) Behavioral Health Care; and 5) Dental and Oral Health Services. 

CMS released this year’s “Chart Pack” last week, which includes an analysis of state performance on 19 of the reported measures.  Arizona reported data from 11 of the indicators.  I Haven’t had the time to dive into the details, but if you’re interested in learning more you can explore the performance measures and the results in the September Report

US DHS Proposed Regulations Chill Programs that Address Social Determinants

Last Saturday the US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen proposed new rules that (when adopted) will consider a much wider range of public benefits when they evaluate applications for an immigration change of status or extension of stay request.  

DHS already uses information about whether applicants for legal permanent residency receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) when they evaluate applications.  After these new rules are adopted, they’ll also consider whether applicants receive Medicaid (AHCCCS), Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), and Section 8 Housing program.  Once adopted, applicants that receive any of these benefits will be far less likely to be approved for a status change or stay extension.  I didn’t see any exemptions for children- so presumably benefits used by any noncitizen family member including kids would count.

Here are some take-aways from the draft: 

  • This is an issue of legal immigration- unauthorized migrants are largely ineligible for public assistance;

  • The use of public benefits by citizen children would not be considered a public charge;

  • This does not directly impact green card holders (the public charge test is not applied to green card holders applying for citizenship);

  • The proposed rule is not retroactive – meaning the public benefits received before the rule is final will not be counted as a public charge; and 

  • The proposed rules would not apply to refugees because existing statute prevents DHS from using the criteria for refugees.

A few months ago, DHS issued a discussion draft of the rule change that would have also included programs like Women Infant and Children (WIC) program, school lunch programs, subsidized marketplace health insurance and even participation in the Vaccines for Children program.

Even though the new draft doesn’t include vaccinations (VFC), WIC and marketplace insurance- many families will believe that the regulations do include these benefits and will elect not to use these important safety net benefits- as doing so will risk their immigration status.  As a result, families will have a more difficult time improving the health status of their families.  

The proposed new rules are 447 pages long- but a key place to look are pages 94-100 (that’s where the outline the new list of benefits that they intend to include).  The official proposal will be published in the Federal Register in a few weeks.  Once it’s officially published, the public will be able to comment on the proposed rule for 60 days.  The official version in the Federal Register will contain information about how to submit comments. I’ll keep my eye out for that.

History of Considering Public Benefits

The term “public charge” as it relates to admitting immigrants has a long history in immigration law, appearing at least as far back as the Immigration Act of 1882.  In the 1800s and early 1900s “public charge: was the most common ground for refusing admission at U.S. 

In 1999, the INS (DHS didn’t exist yet) issued Rules to "address the public’s concerns about immigrant fears of accepting public benefits for which they remained eligible, specifically medical care, children's immunizations, basic nutrition and treatment of medical conditions that may jeopardize public health.” Here's that final Rule from 1999, which didn't include Medicaid our housing benefits in the public charge definition.

Kids Care Included in the AHCCCS Budget Request

Good news.  AHCCCS’ 2020 budget request includes a general fund request of $7.9 million for KidsCare. The request was made under the assumption that the KidsCare trigger law will be amended this coming legislative session, preventing a freeze to CHIP enrollment.

There’s a trigger in state law that automatically freezes the Arizona KidsCare program if FMAP (the federal contribution) drops below 100%.  Under current federal law, the match rate is scheduled to go down to about 90% (9 federal dollars for every state dollar) on October 1, 2019.  So, if the current law isn’t changed during this next legislative session then we’ll likely have an enrollment freeze of the Kids Care program again this time next year.

The fact that AHCCCS included the $7.9M in state matching funds in the budget is encouraging, but the budget request isn’t enough to solve the problem- the legislature would need to change the statute and appropriate the funds to prevent an enrollment freeze.

Kids Care is run by AHCCCS and currently covers about 30,500 kids with a pretty good set of benefits and reasonable premiums.  It’s only available for kids in families that don’t qualify for regular Medicaid and who live in a family that makes under 200% of poverty.

US Senate Proposes Opioid Crisis Response Act

Last week the US Senate released the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, a bipartisan package to address the opioid epidemic. The Act authorizes funding to expand prevention, research, treatment, and recovery programs- but even if it passes as-is, it would still need to go through the actual appropriations process.

The Senate is expected to vote on the Bill soon without the opportunity for amendments and it’s expected to be approved on a broad bipartisan basis (much like the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act was). But, after that, it’s unclear whether the House will vote on this version or the Bill or move to conference the Opioid Crisis Response Act with the recently House-approved “SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R.6)”.  Here’s a summary of what’s in the bill as it sits today:

Medicaid 

  • Clarifies flexibilities around Medicaid’s "Institutions for Mental Disease" (IMD) exclusion where in some cases managed care plans may provide alternative services in lieu of other services that are not permitted under the state plan. 

  • Modifies IMD exclusion for pregnant and postpartum women to address a subset of the prohibition on Medicaid from paying for otherwise coverable services for certain adults while in institutions for mental disease. 

  • Codifies regulations permitting managed care plans to cover treatment in an IMD facility for a certain number of days in a month in lieu of other types of services.

  • Clarifies states’ ability under Medicaid to provide care for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in residential pediatric recovery centers.

  • Directs CMS to issue guidance to states on options for providing services via telehealth that address substance use disorders under Medicaid.

  • Directs CMS to issue guidance on states’ options for treating and managing pain through non-opioid pain treatment and management options.

  • Clarifies states’ ability to access and share data from prescription drug monitoring program databases consistent with the parameters established in state law.

  • Directs HHS to provide technical assistance to states to develop and coordinate housing-related supports and services under Medicaid, either through state plans or waivers, and care coordination services for Medicaid enrollees with substance use disorders. 

Prevention

  • Authorizes CDC’s work to combat the opioid crisis through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data, including through grants for states, localities, and tribes.

  • Authorizes funding through CDC from FY19 - FY24 for states to improve their prescription drug monitoring programs and implement other evidence-based strategies.

  • Authorizes funding from FY19 - FY21 for CDC to support states’ efforts to collect and report data on adverse childhood experiences through existing public health surveys.

  • Authorizes a HHS grant program through 2026 to allow states to develop, maintain, or improve prescription drug monitoring programs and improve their with other states and with other health information technology.

  • Authorizes data collection and analysis through 2023 on neonatal abstinence syndrome or other outcomes related to prenatal substance abuse and misuse, including prenatal opioid abuse and misuse. 

  • Creates an interagency task force to make recommendations regarding best practices to identify, prevent, and mitigate the effects of trauma on infants, children, youth, and their families.

 

Treatment and Recovery

  • Allows physicians who have recently graduated in good standing from medical schools to prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

  • Authorizes a grant program from FY19-FY23 to support development of curriculum that will help healthcare practitioners obtain a waiver to prescribe MAT.

  • Codifies the ability of qualified physicians to prescribe MAT for up to 275 patients if the practitioner meets certain requirements. 

  • Authorizes a grant program from FY19 - FY23 through SAMHSA for entities to establish or operate comprehensive opioid recovery centers that serve as a resource for the community.

  • Requires HHS to issue best practices for emergency treatment of known or suspected drug overdose, use of recovery coaches after a non-fatal overdose, coordination and continuation of care, and treatment after an overdose and provision of overdose reversal medication as appropriate.

  • Requires HHS to provide technical assistance to hospitals and other acute care settings on alternatives to opioids for pain management and authorizes a grant program to support hospitals and other acute care settings that manage pain with alternatives to opioids. 


Some of these policy measures were also recommended in the ADHS' set of federal policy recommendations in their 2017 report.  Sadly, nothing in here directs HHS to drop its policy of not funding syringe access but all in all this Senate bill looks like it's pretty good public health policy.  Nice to see.

Health Insurance for People w Pre-existing Conditions in Jeopardy Again

A main driver for passing and implementing the Affordable Care Act was to ensure that people with pre-existing health conditions could buy health insurance.  Prior to the ACA- people with pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes faced real challenges getting health insurance.

Indeed, one of the most consistently popular parts of the ACA are the provisions that help people get  coverage regardless of health status.  The ACA prevents health insurance companies from denying someone a policy because they have a preexisting condition (called the “guaranteed issue” requirement), refusing to cover services that people need to treat a pre-existing condition (called “preexisting condition exclusions”), or charging a higher premium based on a person’s health status (called the “community rating” provision).   

You can think of pre-existing conditions exclusions, guarantee issue, and community rating as the three legs of the ACA stool.  Despite these largely popular provisions, there are people that want to knock over the stool.  Back in February, 20 states (including Arizona) filed a lawsuit in Texas federal court seeking to invalidate the 3 legs of the stool: preexisting condition exclusions, community rating, and guaranteed issue.

This most recent legal attack argues that the removal of the individual mandate penalty by the most recent federal tax cut legislation makes the ACA unconstitutional (the US Supreme Court upheld the ACA several years ago, in part, because the tax penalty provision provided a statutory hook for the ACA to rest on).  The lawsuit argues that because the mandate is an essential feature of the ACA, the rest of the law must be struck down too.  If the lawsuit eventually succeeds these central provisions of the ACA would go away and an estimated 17 million people could become uninsured again.

During the Obama Administration, the federal government defended the ACA from lawsuits like these.  Those days are over.  A couple of months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they agree with the plaintiff States that the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional. The administration urged the court to strike down the law’s guaranteed issue, preexisting condition exclusion, and community rating provisions.

Prior to the ACA, standards to protect people with preexisting conditions were primarily determined at the state level.  Most states including AZ had very limited protections. Before the ACA, many insurers maintained lists of up to 400 different conditions that disqualified applicants from insurance or resulted in higher premiums.  35% of people who tried to buy insurance on their own were either turned down by an insurer, charged a higher premium, or had a benefit excluded from coverage because of their preexisting health problem.

If the Federal courts (ultimately the US Supreme Court probably) rule in favor of the plaintiffs, States could still play as a regulator of insurance, as they could enact and enforce their own laws to protect residents from discrimination due to preexisting conditions.  In fact, several states already have their own laws to incorporate some or all of the ACA’s protections (Arizona does not). 

Oral arguments have been scheduled for next week in the Texas lawsuit. Arguments are scheduled to take place next Monday before Judge Reed O’Connor.  Whatever the Federal TX Court rules, the result will likely be appealed to the UA Appellate Court and eventually probably the US Supreme Court.