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Voters will decide Tuesday whether Arizona will become the fifth state to make it easier for terminally ill patients to access experimental drugs that haven't been cleared by the federal government.
Arizonans are painfully aware of the skyrocketing costs of health care. Both federal and state governments continue to ask for more tax dollars to pay for Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Taxpayers are contributing more than ever for health care for the less fortunate. Those below 133 percent of the federal poverty level now qualify for Medicaid and those using an ACA exchange receive a heavy subsidy. These programs will be inordinately expensive. Proposition 480 fails to acknowledge these massive changes and the sacrifices taxpayers are already making by asking for a 27-year, $1.6 billion bond and tax increase for the old way of doing health care business. At this point, the county hospital is only a true safety net for illegal immigrants because they do not qualify for AHCCCS or ACA, which begs the question why only Maricopa County property taxpayers should pay for a federal responsibility.
The public is invited to a special event on Friday, Nov. 7, at 1 p.m. in the auditorium located at 1495 E. Ranch Vistoso Blvd. The program will feature Golder Ranch Fire Department EMS Battalion Chief Josh Hurguy and Oro Valley Water Utility Conservationist Karn Boyce.
As a longtime volunteer at Pima Animal Care Center (PACC), I offer information that addresses some of the distortions that have been printed in recent letters. I volunteer weekly for 10-12 hours to walk dogs and serve as an adoption counselor.
Changing the available resources in local health care markets may help drastically to improve overall health in spite of health care service shortages, according to a report by the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization.
PHOENIX -- Two new reports Tuesday show some bumps in the state's recovery from the recession.
One finds that Arizona consumers are spending more, at least in certain areas. But not a lot. The other shows that, for the first time in three years, Arizona is not among the Top 10 states in job growth.
Reports from retailers, released Tuesday by the state Department of Revenue, put total taxable sales at $4.47 billion. That figure comes from reports filed last month which actually reflect sales made in August. That is up 5.2 percent from the same time a year earlier.
But economist Dennis Hoffman from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said it's hardly a number to cheer about.
"It's OK,'' he said. "It's not gangbusters.''
He said a state such as Arizona should be showing year-over-year growth in the 7 percent range.
The numbers represent more than just an academic exercise.
Close to half of the state budget is built on taxable retail sales. And when these figures lag, so do state revenues -- and the ability of lawmakers to meet the spending demands.
In fact, the staff of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which advises state lawmakers, is predicting that, for the entire fiscal year, retail sales will grow just an anemic 3.7 percent.
The job-growth figures come from a separate study by Lee McPheters, also an economist at ASU.
There are signs the state is making some progress at recovery.
Sales at motor-vehicle dealers hit $719.9 million in August. That's 8 percent higher than the same time a year earlier. But it's still far below the $833.8 million figure for August 2005, even with vehicles now costing more than they did back then.
Sales of furniture and other home furnishings increased just 3.1 percent from 2013 and also remain below pre-recession levels. Purchases of clothing and accessories actually dropped by nearly 1.6 percent year over year.
Hoffman said the really shocking number is in the category of residential construction. Total sales there for August tallied $285.5 million. In August 2004, the same category posted $604.7 million in sales. "And that was before the real ratchet-up that we had,'' Hoffman said, with the real estate bubble reaching its peak in 2006 before it burst.
That lack of home construction is reflected in the separate employment report by Lee McPheters, also an economist at ASU. He said that so far this year, the state's already beleaguered construction industry has lost jobs. That sector of the Arizona economy remains at half of what it was before the recession. Manufacturing employment also has shed jobs so far this year.
He did find some bright spots.
For example, for the first nine months of the year, only two states hired a greater percentage of new workers in the health-care field than Arizona. And Arizona is No. 5 for jobs in the financial sector. But that was not enough for Arizona to maintain its Top 10 status of job growth.
McPheters puts year-to-date job growth at just 14th in the nation. And when government jobs are removed from the picture, the state drops to 15th.
"And it appears that unless something very unusual happens, we're going to end up this year as not a Top 10 growth state,'' he said. "That's just one other disappointment to go along with the fact that the economy is losing construction jobs.''
McPheters said the state will likely add no more than 55,000 jobs this year, about the same as last year.
"So that means we're kind of in a three-year period where the economy appears to have plateaued and we're just waiting for something to happen to either spur population growth or get some other sectors to drive the economy,'' he said.
Hoffman said, though, that the sales figures may not be as bad as they seem -- if not from the perspective of state revenues, then at least in terms of the strength of the economy: The numbers reported by retailers to the Department of Revenue obviously do not reflect some purchases made by consumers online or by phone.
Online retailers who have a physical presence in Arizona, like Target.com or Walmart.com, are required to collect the state sales tax. But those based solely elsewhere do not.
Arizona law technically requires buyers to report these purchases and pay an equivalent "use tax'' to the state. But with no real enforcement mechanism for the average consumer, that law goes largely ignored.
September reported taxable sales in billions of dollars
(Reflects August sales)
2004 -- $3.51
2005 -- $4.22
2006 -- $4.44
2007 -- $4.27
2008 -- $4.02
2009 -- $3.53
2010 -- $3.45
2011 -- $3.75
2012 -- $3.87
2013 -- $4.25
2014 -- $4.47
-- Source: Arizona Department of Revenue
Key elements of taxable sales
Element / Amount in millions of dollars / Year-over-year change
Motor vehicle dealers / $719.9 / 8%
Furniture and home furnishings / $274.3 / 3.1%
Building materials, lawn & garden / $270.7 / 2.3%
Taxable food and liquor / $288.3 / 1%
Miscellaneous retail / $684.1 / 10.3%
Clothing and accessories / $235.4 / (-1.6%)
Bar and restaurant sales / $896.3 / 7.1%
Hotel and motel rentals / $157.7 / 14.9%
Residential construction / $285.5 / 9.2%
Nonresidential construction / $192.2 / (-6.4%)
Heavy construction (roads, bridges) / $65.6 / (-4.9%)
-- Source: Arizona Department of Revenue
Private sector job growth, first 9 months of 2014
Rank / State / Number of jobs added / Growth percentage
1 / North Dakota / 19,590 / 5.4%
2 / Nevada / 41,270 / 4.1%
3 / Texas / 329,780 / 3.5%
4 / Florida / 221,520 / 3.4%
5 / Utah / 34,660 / 3.3%
6 / Oregon/ 42,280 / 3.1%
7 / Colorado / 59,510 / 3.0%
8 / Delaware / 9,980 / 2.8%
9 / California / 327,890 / 2.6%
10 / Georgia / 83,970 / 2.5%
11 / North Carolina / 83,000 / 2.5%
12 / Tennessee / 57,690 / 2.5%
13 / Washington / 59,790 / 2.5%
14 / Arizona / 49,630 / 2.4%
15 / Oklahoma / 29,400 / 2.3%
-- Source: W.P. Care School of Business, Arizona State University
Two new reports Tuesday show some bumps in the state's recovery from the recession.
With the 2014 election less than a week away, it’s important to remember that an election is a job review for legislators and elected officials. Let’s review.
Washington • Lawmakers reacted angrily this week to reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs may have known about problems at its Phoenix health care facilities years before they came to light this spring.
A 2008 report by the VA Office of Inspector General found that workers in Phoenix were manipulating records to improve their own performance reviews and to make it appear as if veterans had shorter wait-times for care.
That was echoed in a 2010 internal memo that said VA employees were “gaming the system” to make wait times appear shorter.
Those same practices were revealed this spring, when whistleblowers charged that delays in health care may have led to the deaths of some veterans. Those disclosures sparked a series of angry hearings in Congress, which passed a multibillion-dollar reform bill this summer.
VA officials said late this week that the earlier reports addressed problems as they were identified and it should have been “no secret” to Congress.
But lawmakers didn’t see it that way.
“Anyone who concealed these findings should be immediately fired,” said Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, in a written statement late Wednesday.
Kirkpatrick, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called the VA’s handling of wait times “government at its worst.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said Thursday that he found the existence of earlier reports “disturbing.” Those reports “further highlight the need for fundamental reform, new leadership and full accountability at the Phoenix VA,” he said in a prepared statement.
Problems uncovered at the Phoenix VA earlier this year started a national examination of the department that found widespread problems and led to the resignation in May of then-Secretary Eric Shinseki.
An August inspector general’s report on the Phoenix facility cited cases of wait-time manipulation at 20 other facilities around the country. It included links to the full reports on those other cases, dating as far back as 2005, and also linked to a 2011 report on mismanaged non-VA care funds in Phoenix.
But the August report included no such link to the 2008 report on Phoenix wait-times. That earlier report received only a two-sentence reference that said it “was an accepted past practice at the medical center to alter appointments to avoid wait times greater than 30 days and that some employees still continued that practice.”
OIG officials said Thursday that the 2008 report had not previously been released because it contained information protected by the Privacy Act, which protects personal information recorded by federal agencies.
Everyone should “know their numbers” to ensure optimal health. Beginning this Saturday, Northwest Healthcare will host a series of FREE Cholesterol Screenings, open to the public, by appointment only.
Veterans looking for help receiving their benefits can use the additional resources provided at an upcoming event in Chandler.
In a rematch of a razor-close 2012 congressional race, Democratic Congressman Ron Barber is in a fight for his political life against Republican challenger Martha McSally, a retired A-10 pilot who nearly beat him two years ago.
I’ve mentioned the old-school, interactive wall at my gym where members with a piece of chalk express themselves. The latest, and my favorite under the heading, I Work Out Because...: “I’m tired of being intimidated by my girlfriend’s father.”
It’s not news when politicians try to get into our wallets. But this year, both the city of Phoenix and Maricopa Integrated Health System (MIHS) have crossed the decency line in their efforts to keep our money flowing their direction.
The World Health Organization officially declares that Nigeria and Senegal are now free of the Ebola infection.
As part of their ongoing efforts to be prepared for the possibility of an Ebola case being diagnosed in our community, health officials from across the county gathered Thursday to continue discussions about how our community’s health-care infrastructure would respond to such a scenario. This meeting is the latest example of leaders from the public health department, hospitals, health-care providers, first responders and emergency managers committing to a coordinated effort to protect the community. The focus for today’s meeting was to discuss plans for training opportunities for health-care staff and first responders, developing a process for refining local screening protocols for Ebola, and assembling a proactive community approach to respond to this potential threat.
Did you know that your smile is a reflection of your self-esteem and confidence? It is so important to have that great smile and confidence especially at times when you are interviewing for a job you want and need. Hiding a smile is just as noticeable to your potential employers.
Flu season is well on the way and doctors are urging everyone to vaccinate in order to be protected from the illness this fall and winter. Dr. Michael A. Kaplan, MD, national medical director for NextCare Urgent Care, cleared up some questions and confusion surrounding the vaccine.
“It is not enough to take the temperature and ask questions of airline passengers arriving from African countries with Ebola … simply by the fact that there is a 21-day incubation period. A ban on travelers from these countries needs to be in effect until this disease is under control.”
Facing a lawsuit they appeared to be losing, state prison officials have agreed to improve health care for the more than 34,000 inmates in their custody.
Area veterans can receive additional information about their health care options during an event on Friday.
PHOENIX -- Facing a lawsuit they appeared to be losing, state prison officials have agreed to improve health care for the more than 34,000 inmates in their custody.
The stipulation filed Tuesday in federal court here requires the Department of Corrections to live up to more than 80 specific performance standards for how it handles medical issues. These range from staffing requirements and emergency response times to ensuring that inmates get their medications in a timely fashion.
Potentially more significant for those affected, the stipulation also requires the state to revamp its rules on solitary confinement of inmates -- the department calls it "isolation'' -- with serious mental illness.
Where current regulations keep those prisoners in their cells all but six hours a week, they will now have at least 19 hours a week elsewhere. And that time also must include mental health treatment and other programs.
And the Department has also agreed to use chemical agents like pepper spray on inmates classified as seriously mentally ill "only in case of imminent threat.''
That is defined as situations that jeopardize safety or security like an attempt to escape or active physical resistance. But it specifically precludes pepper spray for things like "passive resistance to placement in restraints or refusal to follow orders.''
Don Specter, an attorney with the Prison Law Office, said this deal, which must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa, is more than just his organization and the American Civil Liberties Union accepting on faith that things will get better.
"We will be able to tour the prisons to check ourselves to see whether they're providing adequate care,'' he said. "And we will also get a lot of documentation.''
The deal comes four months after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the go-ahead for the case, alleging inadequate health care, to be handled as a class-action lawsuit.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for the appellate court, said the attorneys for the inmates provided detailed allegations of everything from "outright denials of health care'' to improper isolation policies. And they also had information on how spending on certain services dropped by more than a third over a two-year period even as inmate population did not.
But Reinhardt, in refusing to require each inmate to prove his or her rights were violated, said the claims alleged "systemic failures'' in the prison's health care system "that expose all inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm.'' And if that is the case, Reinhardt said that would require a wholesale revamp of the agency's policies -- and not simply correcting the problems of the 13 inmates who filed the original 2012 lawsuit.
That paved the way for a trial to begin Monday.
No one from the Department of Corrections would agree to be interviewed about the decision to settle after two years of disputing the allegations. Instead, the agency issued a prepared statement from Director Charles Ryan calling the deal "positive news'' for his agency -- and essentially claiming victory.
"On the eve of trial, the plaintiffs in this case have essentially agreed that the department's current policies and practices, along with recent enhancements to programming opportunities, adequately addresses the plaintiffs' concerns relating to constitutional healthcare and conditions of confinement for maximum custody mentally ill inmates,'' the statement read.
But agency spokesman Doug Nick refused to detail what changes the department has made since the lawsuit was filed and why, if there were no problems, it took two years to settle.
The department's statement, however, suggests that money was a consideration in opting not to go to trial where a judge might have ordered some more extensive -- and expensive -- changes in inmate health care.
It says that California is spending nearly $18,000 per inmate for health care following two decades of litigation brought by the same organizations who are representing inmates here. "By contrast, Arizona spends nearly $3,800 per inmate in health care costs,'' the statement says.
The allegations made -- ones that Nick will not address -- were serious.
They include "lengthy and dangerous delays'' and "outright denials of health care,'' failure to provide necessary medication, a practice of "`employing insufficient health care staff,'' substandard dental care and denial of basic mental health care to suicidal and self-harming prisoners. The lawsuit also said that inmates in isolation units were denied adequate recreation and nutrition, constant cell illumination and inadequate mental health care staffing and treatment.
To prove their case, the inmates presented evidence of the agency's policies, internal communications and reports from four experts in prison medical care and conditions of confinement. And they provided specific incidents.
One involves an inmate who collapsed in his cell from a heart attack but where the lawsuit says officers told prisoners who asked for help to "wait and see what happens.'' While the inmate was taken, eventually, to the medical unit, he was told he had a medical appointment in a few days.
But the inmate, according to the lawsuit, had another heart attack the next day and died.
The legal papers also cite a prisoner, four months pregnant who experienced painful contractions and spotting blood. But a staffer at the medical unit told her it was nothing serious and "all in her head,'' refusing to allow her to see someone for evaluation.
She eventually miscarried.