Arizona currently has among the highest COVID-19 death rates in the country, with an average 51 deaths per day, and a rate of 0.70 deaths per 100,000. In the midst of legal battles over the state’s refusal to adopt President Biden’s vaccine mandate for health facilities, 53% of Arizonans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As community transmission levels remain high, some experts are warning of a potential “twindemic” this winter with the combined threat of COVID and the flu virus.
This month’s “5 Things We’re Watching” features a conversation with AzHHA’s new government relations director about how hospitals are approaching vaccine requirements for their employees, as well as how their staffing shortages continue to be a concern. Also featured in this newsletter: a legislator determined to expand postpartum coverage, calls for clearer health data collection for Black Arizonans, and an FQHC’s work to improve cultural competency for its patients.
If there’s something specific you’d like to see us report on, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I welcome your input. Thanks for reading!
Health Policy Reporter
State of Reform
1. Q&A: Rep. Kelli Butler is continuing her push for increased maternal health coverage
Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler is an active voice in state health policy and sits on the House Health and Human Services Committee. In this Q&A, Butler discusses her work to expand CHIP coverage, improve maternal health, and combat homelessness.
Butler is pushing to raise the CHIP income eligibility — which she says is among the “stingiest” in the country — to the US median, which would add around 20,000 more children to the program. She also wants the state to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage, citing a study showing 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the state between 2016 and 2017 were preventable and that over one-third occurred between 42 days and one year postpartum.
2. AzHHA emphasizes severity of workforce shortage
With Arizona hospitals predicted to continue to struggle to meet demand for care through February, AzHHA’s new director of government relations, Meghan McCabe, says the state’s health care workforce shortage is members’ “top pain point.” She says AzHHA is working to educate policymakers about the need for more health care workers and to grow the education pipeline to bring in new staff.
McCabe, stating that AzHHA recognizes vaccines as one of the best strategies for mitigating COVID-19, says the organization is ensuring its members have access to all the vaccine information they need, but acknowledged that some workers will choose not to receive it. “We know there may be some staff who choose not to get vaccinated, and that’s the reality … our hospitals are ensuring that that education and information is available, [and] that people can make an evidence-based decision about getting vaccinated.”
3. North Country Health Care shares efforts to improve cultural competency
North Country Health Care, northern Arizona’s primary FQHC that serves over 50,000 patients across 12 rural communities, recently released its annual Cultural Competency Report, which details its efforts to address the SDOH of its patients. Roxana Contreras Cardiel, equity and inclusion specialist at NCHC, spoke with State of Reform reporter Soraya Marashi about the FQHC’s success in the area this past year, specifically highlighting the use of “integral” community health workers to improve language accessibility.
Cardiel also said the facility is focused on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in its workforce. By fostering a diverse workforce and a sense of belonging among staff, she said, NCHC is able to bring that sense of community to the diverse population it serves and ultimately yield better health outcomes.
4. Health data collection lagging for Black Arizonans
The State of Black Arizona’s recent “Driving Local Investment in Black Arizonans” report highlights health disparities that continue to impact Arizona’s Black residents, including a lack of access to primary care and insurance coverage. SBAZ Executive Director Teniqua Broughton told State of Reform the state has failed to collect adequate COVID-19 data that’s specific to Black Arizonans and said the disaggregation of this data should be a priority.
The report shows that 11% Black Arizonans are uninsured, and one in four report not having access to a primary care physician. To begin addressing these inequities, Broughton said, the state needs to focus on improving its data collection for this demographic: “If you don’t prioritize disaggregated data, how can you make decisions for all Arizonans? For us to address our hardest inequities, we need to be able to speak for ourselves …”
5. Pfizer’s Bhash Parasuraman on the future of gene therapy
In the latest edition of our virtual “Leadership Series,” we hosted a conversation on the future of gene therapy with Bhash Parasuraman, vice president of value and access for rare disease and internal medicine at Pfizer. Parasuraman spoke with Host DJ Wilson about the promise of gene therapy for treating rare diseases, how to increase access to these treatments, and the policies she thinks need to be put in place to support them.
Parasuraman believes we might see more of these “promising” gene therapies come to market within the next decade. To increase affordability, she says the US needs to implement innovative payment models for these therapies: “These are going to be more expensive and that’s going to create some budget challenges, particularly for Medicaid … There needs to be mechanisms or policy changes in place to allow for different payment models.”