In this edition of “5 Things We’re Watching” in Arizona, we take a look at some of the health-related legislation moving through the legislature. We also include updates on the state’s Medicaid redetermination plan and the delay in Gov. Hobbs’s appointment for the new director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
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State of Reform
1. Arizona pushes for condensed Medicaid unwinding period
Arizona is one of the 15 states that plans to begin conducting its first disenrollments from Medicaid in April. Lawmakers recently voted on a narrow margin to advance a bill that aims to shorten the state’s timeline for conducting eligibility renewals from the federally permitted 12 months to nine months. However, key stakeholders have expressed concerns over the condensed timeline.
During testimony on the bill, sponsor Rep. Leo Biasiucci argued the curtailment would reduce the cost to the state of keeping additional members on Medicaid (which he says is about $5 million per month). AHCCCS’s Jennifer Carusetta expressed concern that the time constraints would risk lapses in care for high-need children. Drew Schaffer from the William E. Morris Institute of Justice called it an “unnecessary acceleration of a plan that has been thoughtfully put in place for a long time.”
2. Hobbs’s appointment for ADHS leader remains uncertain
Gov. Hobbs’s appointment for ADHS director remains up in the air after she withdrew her initial nominee last month. The governor’s remorseful decision to withdraw Dr. Theresa Cullen’s nomination came after a heated hearing on her appointment to the position, during which members of the public and conservative state legislators brought up her tenure as director of the Pima County Health Department. More recently, Hobbs’s appointee for DCS director was dismissed due to Republican attacks against his fitness for leadership.
During Cullen’s hearing, criticism from the public included accusations that she represented “Fauci-ism” and was responsible for public health mandates during COVID that diverged from the sentiment of Gov. Ducey and many Arizonans regarding mandatory vaccines and masking. ““As long as Republicans choose politics over the people of Arizona, some of the most talented and qualified candidates will choose not to enter state service, and it is the people of Arizona who will suffer most because of these political games,” Hobbs said in a statement.
3. Lawmakers hear shocking testimony about Native abductions at BH facilities
Sen. Theresa Hatathlie is sponsoring a bill that aims to address the around 60 reported cases of abductions of Native individuals under false premises of behavioral health treatment. According to the bill’s supporters, dozens of indigenous individuals in the state have been kidnapped while they’re inebriated, checked into behavioral health residential treatment facilities against their will, and forced to stay.
The perpetrators allegedly continue to keep these individuals intoxicated so they can receive money from AHCCCS through their registration at the facility. “We’ve witnessed unmarked vans drive onto tribal land, pull into gas stations, they find inebriated tribal members, they pull them in, and drive them off without ever receiving proper consent from the individual, and without ever alerting the person’s family,” testified Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, first lady of the Navajo Nation, during the hearing. No action has been taken on the bill yet, although Sen. T.J. Shope indicated he would prioritize the initiative.
4. Other health bills we’re watching
We’re keeping tabs on numerous health bills this session, including HB 2470 to require Medicaid coverage of genome sequencing, which aims to make the life-saving service available to critically ill infants up to one year old. HB 2451 would create a digital therapeutics program within ADHS for individuals with OUD and SUD, and HB 2053 would establish a nurse home visitor grant program to improve maternal and child health.
In an effort to support the healthcare workforce, SB 1249 aims to allow international medical graduates to practice in Arizona without additional requirements. SB 1250 would require employers to permit employees to fill out religious exemption forms for various vaccines, including for COVID-19. SB 1603 would require Arizona hospitals to comply with federal price transparency requirements. You can read additional coverage of some on-the-move health legislation here and here.
5. ADCRR ordered to address negligence over prison healthcare
We will be closely tracking the next developments from a federal judge’s recent directive for ADCRR to take steps to address its history of insufficient oversight of prison healthcare. ADCRR is now required to hire additional needed healthcare staff, assign each incarcerated individual a primary care provider, ensure each individual receives timely medical and mental health screenings, and much more.
Examples of Arizona prisons’ practices over the past decade include using pepper spray on inmates, neglecting to offer critical mental healthcare, and refusing to provide inmates needed medications. Following the decision, Gov. Hobbs created an Independent Prison Oversight Committee to ensure the department is transparent and held accountable for improving these conditions. They’re expected to produce a report on their findings this fall.