By Naomi Hatch
Following a spirited discussion April 23, members of the Snowflake Town Council agreed to table a resolution in support of Governor Jan Brewer’s Medicaid plan, and not to revisit the issue unless the majority agreed to do so.
The resolution was originally on the council’s April 9 agenda, but was tabled as the council asked staff members to get more information on the issue. A group of citizens attending that meeting requested that the resolution not be approved.
Town Manager Paul Watson pointed out that he and Mayor Kelly Willis were out of town and did not attend that meeting, but he requested additional information on the issue, both pro and con, and had sent it to council members prior to the April 23 meeting.
“The things I saw were more in favor,” said Watson, noting that this is not an easy subject that it is being debated on the state level and that the sides are not divided along party lines.
“I serve on our regional hospital governing board,” stated Watson, “so I do have some bias concerns in regards to that.”
Watson explained that because of the indigent care Summit Healthcare provides, when someone comes to the emergency room they receive care whether they can pay or not. Summit officials estimates the losses for reimbursement could be $9 million to $10 million because of Arizona’s position due to budget constraints. “That means that some of the programs we offer, and particularly those programs that are most subsidized, have to be brought for consideration” he said, noting that one of those is the obstetrics (OB) department, because there are a significant number of births that are not covered or reimbursed.
A very passionate District III Navajo County Supervisor Sylvia Allen brought up other things for the council members to think about and asked them not to pass this resolution, which would add their influence to the issue.
“Do you really trust the federal government?” asked Allen. “This is not free money.” She also expressed concern that the circuit breaker may not be enforced by future governors, it depended upon the governor in office.
Allen said that when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the affordable care act is unconstitutional, it made it possible for the governor to sue the federal government noting, “She was willing to sue on the original Obama bill.”
Summit Healthcare CEO Ron McArthur explained that Proposition 204 was approved by the people of Arizona on two occasions and that when the legislature took that money away from the hospital, their bad debts doubled, causing Summit to operate in the red. Because of the loss of Prop. 204 funding, Summit gave no salary increases and put a major building project on hold.
“We can’t continue to absorb $8 million to our bad debt,” he said, noting that 74 percent of obstetric patients are Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) patients.
McArthur pointed out that another hospital recently closed, stating, “Hospitals need financial relief now, not down the road.”
Mayor Willis said that he felt most of the people in the room voted for Gov. Brewer in the last election and stated, “I’m also guessing that Gov. Brewer has no love lost for the present administration in Washington.
“Do we want to think or believe that Gov. Brewer was trying to get this to pass and is trying to do what’s best for the State of Arizona?” asked the mayor “She’s on top of this.” He noted that he had been to her office and had seen the integrity of her people. “Do we feel like Gov. Brewer is way out of touch and doesn’t know what the state needs?” he asked.
“She’s a good woman, but Mayor Willis, she makes a lot of decisions politically,” said Allen. “There’s so much political stuff that goes on down there, its not based on principles, it’s not based on what is right.” Allen said that Brewer hopes to run for senator, and the hospitals and insurance companies pour a lot of money into the political system.
“It’s not good principal to expand us into Obamacare, because if you could see down the road…I guarantee you in five years this hospital is going to still lose money” said Allen.
“I think you’ve heard both sides passionately,” said Watson, noting that he felt that Snowflake wasn’t really a major player in the state and he knew that the governor is working with her support group very aggressively to see if they have the necessary votes to pass this. Watson said he also felt that Snowflake’s representatives have pretty strong opinions already.
“I think there’s a diversion of opinions, and for us as a town council to make a decision for the community, I think with such a diversion is wrong” said Councilman Chris Brimhall, who suggested that individual citizens make their feelings know to elected officials.
Mayor Willis was very passionate as he told citizens he had to look at things in a different way. He said that they are looking at the largest employer in the county and looking at losing the OB department. “Is everybody OK with having babies in Flagstaff or Phoenix? Do they think that’s a good thing? I would feel terrible not to have an OB here and put lives in jeopardy,” he said.
“You can’t ask Mayor Willis to go this way because we said so and you want me to break the law. I don’t think you can do that,” said the mayor to the citizens. “If you people tell me that everybody in town feels the same way that you do, then OK.
The mayor then noted that if you vote for someone, you have to put your faith in them. He was interrupted from the audience by several who said that you did not.
“If we say we’re not doing anything then we lost our OB, we lose many of our employees, we have a baby die, we have a mother die because we’re not going to get them anywhere,” said the mayor.
“You’ve taken this off on a whole other layer,” said Allen to Willis.
“I personally am very surprised,” said Wendy Bloomfield to the mayor, acknowledging that this was the first council meeting she had attended. “When the public speaks, they get a tongue lashing. The problem is everything that we’ve said you’re taking personally.”
“I apologize, I didn’t mean to beat anybody down,” said Mayor Willis. “I’m used to getting beat up myself. All I’m trying to do is point out to all of you is that I have to look at the broad picture.”
Councilman Tom Poscharsky agreed with Councilman Brimhall and pointed out that there were three groups, with one, the senior citizens, having no representation. “It’s hurt them a lot,” he said. He reminded everyone that at the last meeting they were split on the issue 3-3, and noted that he felt they should not do anything on this.
Poscharsky then moved to table this item and not bring it up again unless there is a vote of the majority. The motion passed unanimously.
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By Naomi Hatch