5 Things Arizona: Prefiled bills, Excess COVID deaths, Q&A w/ Justin Chase


Eli Kirshbaum


I hope everyone had a wonderful, safe holiday break! In light of the rising concern surrounding the Omicron variant, we hope you are staying safe and making informed decisions about your health.

The last Arizona “5 Things” newsletter of 2021 features an update on prefiled health bills (the 2022 legislative session starts on Jan. 10), a conversation on behavioral health with Justin Chase of Solari Crisis & Human Services, and illuminating data on excess deaths during the pandemic.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform


1. Health bills on deck for 2022 session

Lawmakers have prefiled multiple health bills ahead of the 2022 legislative session. Several recent bills concern COVID vaccination requirements: HB 2022 would repeal statute allowing the governor to require vaccinations, SB 1052 would prohibit the government or businesses from requiring vaccinations, and HB 2020 allows for exemptions from vaccination requirements if an individual can prove they have antibodies.

Sen. Kelly Townsend has prefiled Senate Bills 1014 and 1016. SB 1014 would increase the availability of ambulance services across the state, which Townsend said removes restrictions on ambulance access for “life-saving services when seconds count.” SB 1016, Townsend explained, prevents pharmacists from refusing to fill life-saving prescriptions for off-label use because “no pharmacist should have discretion to interfere when a provider has prescribed potentially life-saving medication during a pandemic.”


2. Arizona has highest jump in excess deaths during the pandemic

A recent AzPHA report revealed that Arizona has had the nation’s highest increase in excess deaths during the pandemic. The report, which compares the CDC’s data on COVID-19-attributable excess deaths to expected deaths based on statistical models, found Arizona had 16,824 more total deaths in 2020 than in 2017-2019—a 29% excess.

58% of excess deaths in the state during the pandemic can be attributed to COVID-19, says the report. Mortality from other leading causes of death increased during this time as well, including from Parkinson’s Disease and homicide. Arizona has the 4th highest daily average COVID death rate in the country, and 25% of eligible Arizonans have received a booster shot—something AzPHA stresses is critical to curb these numbers.

3. Q&A: Justin Chase of Solari Crisis & Human Services discusses BH in Arizona

FEMA and SAMSHA recently approved a second grant for the Resilient Arizona Crisis Counseling Program, initially created in June 2020 to respond Arizonans’ pandemic mental health needs. In this Q&A, Justin Chase, president and CEO of Solari Crisis & Human Services and overseer of the program, discusses its positive impact and what he thinks needs to be done to improve behavioral health services in the state.

When the Crisis Counseling Program sunsets in March 2022, Chase is confident its services will smoothly transition to state-level offerings. He believes the state is too reliant on its emergency department for providing behavioral health services, and recommends the implementation of more state-supported behavioral health services as well as increased investments in the industry’s workforce.


4. Topical Agenda for 2022 State of Reform Federal Conference now available!

We recently released the Topical Agenda for the virtual 2022 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference, scheduled for Feb. 17th! Take a look for a breakdown of the sessions we curated for the event with help from our Convening Panel.

Federal health policy leadership, state case studies, racism as a public health issue—all of this and more will be explored by subject area experts throughout the day. Register now to secure your spot for these timely conversations!

5. U.S. health care expenditures increased by 9.7% in 2020

CMS’s Office of the Actuary’s National Health Expenditures Team recently released their annual report on national health spending, which shows significant pandemic-induced changes in U.S. health care spending last year. In a recent piece, State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta breaks down some of the report’s main findings about changes in national health care expenditures during 2020.

Overall national health expenditures increased from $3.8 trillion in 2019 to $4.1 trillion in 2020. The private sector spent 0.6% less on health care in 2020 because employers paid less for employee health care due to the large number of people who lost their jobs, Capretta explains. He also notes that since the federal government increased their share of Medicaid spending in response to the pandemic, state health care expenditures decreased by 3.1% in 2020 compared to 2019.