It is surely karmic justice for Arizona, the place that most loves to limit reproductive choice, that the government is now paying for 53% of all births within state borders.
According to Dana Wolfe Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance, the Arizona legislature, in this session alone, has done the following:
- cut women’s access to contraceptive services
- refused to hear bills that would expand sex education in the schools
- placed more limits on abortion access.
While the percentage of births paid for by AHCCCS, Arizona’s form of Medicaid, passed the 50% mark in 2003, state lawmakers were clueless about the trend. When contacted by The Arizona Republic, Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said, “I had no idea that the number had grown to that ridiculous level.” Sen. Linda Gray, head of the Senate human-services committee, said, “Wow” when informed of the numbers. Her solution was that parents and churches should encourage more people to marry.
The Republic reports that there is a correlation between the rising number of state-paid births and the decline in the number of Arizonans covered by private health insurance. Now that his attention has been drawn to the subject, Kavanagh’s first question was the obvious one for a conservative: Is the state too generous with benefits?
In a related story, the New York Times reports that Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, is quietly planning the framework for a state health insurance exchange, in conformance with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Providing access to health insurance would seem to be the sensible solution for what is obviously a mounting crisis, but Brewer hasn’t made a final decision. In any case, she won’t be reporting what it is until after Election Day.
Of course, any decision in favor of an exchange still has to be approved by the state legislature, and that’s an iffy proposition at best. Brewer’s health care policy adviser, Donald Hughes, said, “If we have to have one, then it would be better for Arizona to do it ourselves rather than defer to the federal government.” A coalition of business leaders is encouraging Brewer to go with the exchange, presumably because it’s to their advantage to have an insured work force. However, equally powerful forces are exerting pressure on state legislators to resist, such as the conservative Americans for Prosperity. The organization’s director, Tom Jenney, has vowed to make life as uncomfortable as possible for those who do not oppose the exchange.
Will Arizona remain the state that never learns? Will it continue to ignore the hard evidence before government officials’ faces? November 16th is the deadline for committing to an exchange. That’s the date the answers will begin to come clear.