5 Things Arizona: Christ’s departure, Banner vaccine mandate, COVID response RFP

Thanks to my team for holding things together during some much needed vacation for me and my family. Emily Boerger, our managing editor, leads a team of folks covering Arizona health policy who all filled in ably. You’ll see many of their bylines mentioned or linked to in this month’s edition.

And, thanks to you for letting us play this role in Arizona health care and for letting us take up some space in your inbox. We appreciate it!




                                                                                             With help from Eli Kirshbaum                                                                                                                                                                     

1. AHCCCS submits HCBS spending plan

AHCSSS submitted its $1.14 billion HCBS spending plan earlier this month, taking advantage of the temporary 10% FMAP increase for HCBS services available through ARPA. The plan outlines two broad goals for the funding: to strengthen and enhance Arizona’s HCBS system of care and to advance technology to support greater independence and community connection.

A central goal of the plan is to augment the state’s sparse health care workforce. It dedicates over $1.2 billion to workforce development, with over $1 billion going directly to hiring and retention programs. The state will provide time-limited payments to providers, incentivizing them by increasing wages, improving benefit packages, offering signing bonuses, and providing tuition reimbursement programs.


2. Banner mandates COVID-19 vaccines for employees

Banner Health, Arizona’s largest private employer, announced that it will be requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 1. The decision comes as COVID cases in the state, fueled by the Delta variant, reach their highest levels since March and health care workers across the country face increased exposure to the virus.

“The vaccine data has fully supported the safety and efficacy to prevent disease and reduce its severity. There is overwhelming evidence for us to act on behalf of the communities that rely on us to care for and protect them,” said Banner Health President and CEO Peter Fine.


3. Rapid COVID response RFP

ADHS’s RFP inviting contractors to staff its Rapid Response Disease Investigation Service closed today. In pursuit of its strategic plan goals, the service will mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by conducting statewide contact tracing.

“The contractor shall provide a scalable workforce model that has the flexibility to adjust the number of disease investigators to accommodate the needs of ADHS to conduct disease investigation services for COVID-19 case investigations and contact tracing, as well as investigating other conditions of public health significance,” read the RFP.


4. “Washington’s most interesting woman”

Congress, and particularly the Senate, is working on a two-track process to make once in a generation investments in infrastructure, jobs, families and climate change. There will be significant changes to health care as well. Whether either of those two efforts can pass is an open question in a 50-50 Senate. But Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s leadership on one track, the $1T bi-partisan package, earned 67 votes last night in the Senate. It’s a major win for the body, which has not found many areas of significant agreement in recent years. Sinema’s role appears to have been critical in getting that support together.

The DC insiders at Punchbowl News calls this “Kyrsten Sinema Week” and says she is “Washington’s most interesting woman” for her work to pull this deal together. From Punchbowl: “Most people didn’t expect Sinema would be the one to help lead a bipartisan group of senators to a major infrastructure deal. Some of her House friends aren’t surprised that Sinema was able to deliver, however. She has a surprisingly wide range of relationships that helped pull this together, both on the Hill and inside the Biden administration.”


5. Christ leaves ADHS, joins BCBS

Cara Christ, MD, has been leading the COVID response as Director of the Arizona Dept. of Health Services since the onset of the pandemic, providing a steady hand in a very challenging environment. She is the longest serving ADHS Director, having taken the post in 2015. Christ will join Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona as its Chief Medical Officer.

This is a strong recruit for BCBS, particularly as it more deeply engages in public lines of insurance business. A stronger public health awareness is going to be required of all health plans moving forward, something BCBS has embraced in the last 18 months. Christ can be expected to be helpful in both areas.