As soon as Republicans swept into power in both Congress and state legislatures across the country, many of them began advocating for spending cuts they claim are intended to rein in state and federal deficits. Some of these more radical state Republicans have even pushed for their states to reject federal money for crucial programs, with Gov. Rick Perry (TX) advocating for letting states opt-out of Social Security and numerous Texas lawmakers considering pulling the state out of the Medicaid program, something the right-wing Heritage Foundation supports.
Now, Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (R), who has just been elected the president of the state senate, has launched a push to reject federal funding for the state’s Medicaid program, known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). Pearce wants the state to turn down $7 billion in federal funding that would help keep AHCCCS afloat. When asked what the more than one million Arizonans who rely on AHCCCS for care would do, Pearce told a reporter that “church, community, families got to provide.”
Yesterday, Pearce appeared on a local news show to field questions about the agenda he plans to enact as Senate President. At one point, host Brahm Resnik probed Pearce’s proposal to reject the federal health care funding and asked him if the more than one million people who rely on the program will just have to “fend for themselves” if AHCCCS doesn’t get the federal money it needs to survive. Pearce responded that the issue needs to be “put in context,” and compared funding health care to an unwise, broke shopper going to the fashion merchandise chain Dillard’s and buying clothes. Resnik later asked Pearce what the “future” will be of the million people on the program if it no longer has the funds to operate, and Pearce dryly responded, “They’ll probably be okay,” and suggested that they may move the program towards privatization, adding co-pays and premiums:
RESNIK: Let’s turn to the budget now. You told Howard Fisher of Capitol News Services last week you are prepared to let the Feds keep billions of dollars they provide for the state access program. You said, quote, “If we’re saving (state) money the fact that we lose some federal money means nothing. … Church, community, families got to provide.” So are you saying that you’re willing to let the 1 million people who get health care from the state through access just fend for themselves?
PEARCE: What I’m saying is you sometimes can’t afford to take the federal money –
RESNIK: Are you saying –
PEARCE: Things need to be put in context. Hang on. It’s like going to Dillard’s, you don’t have any money, but it’s a great sale. So I’m gonna buy it, but I have no money. The federal money comes with strings. One of the great challenges we have this session will be to work around some of the stimulus money we took to tie our hands. […]
RESNIK: So you are willing to say no to those billions of dollars?
PEARCE: I don’t think we’ll take the money. [...]
RESNIK: And the one million people on access, what’s their future?
PEARCE: They’ll probably be okay.
RESNIK: Okay, how?
PEARCE: […] It’s time to cut the fat and trim government.
RESNIK: Next June when the budget is done will there be an access program, a state insurance program for a million people?
PEARCE: We’re not gonna eliminate it, we’re gonna fix it. There’s gonna be co-pays, premiums, we’re gonna fix it.
One in five Arizonans is now utilizing AHCCCS. Due to the recession, the program has already been drastically scaled back, with as many as 18,000 Arizonan children cut from KidsCare– the division set up to care for juveniles — this past year alone. Without the federal funding, there is little hope that AHCCCS will be able to continue to serve Arizonans. Pearce is putting the health of more than a million people on the line with his ideological crusade against the federal government, and denying people health care is not the same as denying them designer goods from fashion retail stores.