5 Things Arizona: Q&A w/ Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, Agency budget requests, ARPA funds

For the uninitiated, the legislative session seems a long ways off. But, if the key issue is always money, then the budget is the primary object of each legislative session. And that conversation begins this month with budget requests coming in from state agencies. ASU’s finest, reporter Ethan Kispert, has those details. He is one of seven reporters we now have covering Arizona health care and health reform in other states across the country.

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With help from Emily Boerger

1. Agencies submit budget requests

In anticipation of FY 2023 budget conversations, state agencies have submitted their Agency Budget Requests to the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting. In this piece, State of Reform Reporter Ethan Kispert details some of the health-related requests in the documents, including AHCCCS’s request for an additional $358.3 million in general funds compared to FY 2022.

Reducing recidivism by tackling substance abuse is a top priority in the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry’s budget request. Of the 15,715 inmates released during FY 2021, approximately 86% needed substance abuse treatment. ADCRR is requesting $5 million to continue to expand the department’s treatment capacity from 19.6% to 36.2%, enabling it to serve an additional 2,527 inmates in need of treatment.

 

2. Q&A: Rep. Lorenzo Sierra

Representative Lorenzo Sierra is a member of both the House Government Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. In this Q&A, Sierra discusses his personal experience with COVID, the long-term costs of the pandemic on the health care system, and his priorities for the 2022 legislative session.

Sierra says his top priorities include getting mental health personnel in the K-12 system and providing benefit education and assistance for safety net-eligible Arizonans. Sierra also says he expects a “more combative” sessions this year, and notes that we should expect to see an abortion bill similar to the one that recently went into effect in Texas. “I don’t know who’s working on it at this point, but I’m sure that will come up and it’s going to be a very heated debate.”


3. Phoenix approves $198 million in ARPA funds

The Phoenix City Council last week issued final approval for $198 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to support the city in 47 different investment areas including workforce training, COVID-19 testing/vaccinations, and mental health programs. The council originally approved the spending in June, but requested that staff return with additional details before beginning operations.

The funding plan also focuses on addressing homelessness with $10.5 million slated for homelessness and mental health, $4.5 million to support veterans at risk of homelessness, $3 million for summer heat respite, and $10 million in utilities and rent/mortgage assistance. The council will consider allocations for an additional $198 million in funding in May 2022.

 

4. Opioid prescriptions drop, but overdoses surge

The American Medical Association released a report last week showing a 44.4% drop in opioid prescriptions nationwide between 2011 and 2020, alongside a significant jump in overdose deaths. The same pattern holds true in Arizona where opioid prescriptions decreased by 46.1% from 2011-2020, but overdose deaths have jumped 30.3% in just the 12 months between Feb. 2020 and 2021.

To address this pattern – which can be attributed in part to the increase in overdoses from fentanyl and fentanyl analogs – the Arizona Medical Association is urging policymakers to stop prior authorization for medications to treat opioid disorder, and to improve data collection to target at-risk populations. The association is also asking for more support for harm reduction strategies such as naloxone and needle exchange services.

 

5. Federal funds to support maternal health

The US Department of Health and Human Services recently announced over $11 million in funds to support maternal and child health in Arizona. The department awarded $10.93 million to the Arizona Department of Health Services through its Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, which brings support services directly to families.

Under the Healthy Start Initiative, the County of Maricopa was awarded $120,581 to increase the availability of community-based doulas. According to America’s Health Rankings, in 2019 Arizona had a maternal mortality rate of 27.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, ranking it 29th in the nation.