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Tax Hike Passes yet AZ Program Cuts Remain

June 11, 2010

PHOENIX - While the sales tax hike approved by Arizona voters has taken effect, critics complain it is doing nothing to remedy cuts made to state programs benefiting the working poor. The ban on new enrollments in KidsCare is one cutback hitting low-income families hard, according to medical social worker Tammy Thiel, who says the working poor are heavily impacted by cuts in state programs. Banning new KidsCare enrollments, she says, is especially tough on children with chronic medical conditions.

"Governor Brewer made the comment that families could rely on the ER. But, with chronic conditions, such as a child with a kidney issue, about the last thing you want to do is have them so severe that you're in the ER, because it means they're risking kidney failure."

Thiel says the working poor have few health care options for their children beyond overburdened community health centers and discount pharmacy programs. Private health insurance already is unaffordable, even if it's available, she says.

"I've heard upwards of 500 dollars every two weeks taken out of their paycheck for health insurance. They're between a rock and a hard place of, 'do we give up our lifestyle, our vehicle, our home, in order to pay for our child's medical care?'"

As a middle-income parent herself, Thiel says she's in a borderline situation where a major medical catastrophe could put her in the same place as the low-income families with whom she works. She's looking to the federal government for a solution.

"I'm hoping that, maybe with health care reform, we can find some balance between health insurance premiums and the cost of health care, so I don't have to face my child and say I'm really sorry that I can't provide the medical care we need to keep you healthy."

She acknowledges that further state tax increases to reverse program cuts are unlikely. Legislative leaders say cuts to KidsCare and other programs were unavoidable because the state is broke. Thiel counters that decision by pointing out everyone's health insurance premiums could rise as hospitals pass along the cost of increased emergency room usage.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ