Ballot Prop could affect future of health care in Arizona

Flagstaff, AZ – Proposition 101 would prohibit any law that restricts an individual's freedom to choose their own private health care plan or provider. Orthopedic surgeon Eric Novack is chairman of the group Medical choice for Arizona, which put the proposition on the ballot. He says Arizonans enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of the press and property rights. But

Dr. Eric Novack "Remarkably, we have no constitutional protections similarly to be in charge of our own health care decisions. Proposition 101 in the end will keep people in Arizona in charge of their own health care decisions."

Novack believes universal health care will eventually be introduced in the U.S. And he says Proposition 101 would allow Arizonans to opt out of any future government run health care programs. Novack acknowledges health care reform is needed, but is concerned about how it might look.

NOVACK) " the people who make the most money from the industry do whatever they can to get language into a bill, that makes them the most money. And there is no area that's larger than health care. In Arizona, it's believed that between 40 and 45 billion dollars was spent on health care services in 2007 and at the federal level it's over 2 trillion and growing."

Proposition 101 is endorsed by Senator Jon Kyl and Congressman Jon Shadegg, the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Arizona, and the Goldwater Institute, which refers to the measure as a constitutional insurance policy against socialized medicine.

Dr. Andrew Saal) " my big disagreement with this is that they talk about freedom because everybody loves freedom and then unless you read into the clauses that follow the wording, you're going to miss the entire point."

That's Dr. Andrew Saal, Director of North Country Community Health Center in Flagstaff. On this October afternoon, the facility is bustling and one woman is taking an eye exam.
Many patients at North Country are on AHCCCS, the state funded Medicaid program. Some opponents of 101 say it could dismantle AHCCCS and interfere with federal funding for health care in Arizona Others say it would open a legal can of worms. Saul opposes Proposition 101 because he says it preemptively restricts legislation which might provide a way out of the health care crisis.

SAAL) "When I began at North Country years ago, the uninsured population was unemployed or homeless. Right now we're seeing that 85% have one or 2 or 3 jobs in the family and the median income has climbed. These are the millions of Americans who work who can't afford insurance."

Saal is also concerned about the proposition's wording. It reads no law shall interfere with a person's or an entity's right to pay directly for lawful medical services.' Saul says the word entity' could refer to insurance companies.

Saal "If they choose not to cover your loved ones' operation, you can appeal their decision. But do we really want the Arizona constitution to say, that the legislature can't regulate an insurance companies decision not to pay for something?"

Opponents of Prop 101 include Governor Janet Napolitano, AARP, and a dozen health care groups. Paul Dutton, who directs Northern Arizona University's Interdisciplinary Health Policy Institute, says voters need to take a close look at what Prop 101 would do.

Professor Paul Dutton ) "first and foremost, it's a constitutional amendment to the state constitution and that's why I think voters need to take a look at it seriously, because it's the implications, it's the down the road, it's the potential of the proposition to affect future legislation that's so important here.

Dutton says experts disagree on how the constitutional amendment would be interpreted by state agencies, the legislature, and the courts. But it's clear Prop 101 would limit the kinds of health care reform measures state lawmakers could consider in the future.

A yes vote on Proposition 101 would prohibit laws restricting choice of private health care systems. A No' vote would maintain the status quo. In Flagstaff for APR, I'm TB.

Tag: A debate on Proposition 101 will be held this evening in NAU's Cline Library auditorium at 7:00. You can also listen to the debate tomorrow at KNAU dot org.