View from the Left Side

Arizona’s Surprise Billing Law Doesn’t Go Far Enough to Protect Patients (video)

Selah and Grandma

On Thursday, the regulatory affairs committee started bright and early with a sunset review hearing for three different departments: the Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO), the Department of Insurance, and the Arizona Board of Library Examiners. (This post focuses on the Auditor General’s review of the Department of Insurance.)

I have been on the Health Committee since day one and was on the Banking and Insurance Committee for two years (until it was eliminated by the Republicans). As a result, I have heard a lot of insurance bills and am very familiar with the heavy workload the Department of Insurance has. (Often, legislation gives departments more work without giving them more staff or more money.)

Primarily, my questions to the DOI director focused on surprise billing. You may remember that we passed a surprise bill in 2018. At the time, Democrats were concerned that the Republican/lobbyist crafted bill didn’t go far enough to protect patients and didn’t include a sufficient (or any) appropriation to run the surprise billing complaint department.

Surprise bills are healthcare bills that you didn’t know you owed. people generally receive surprise bills after the insurance company and the patient have paid their share of the care that was provided. The problem is that sometimes there are out of network providers, for example, in an operating room. While you’re under, you don’t know that the anesthesiologist is not covered by your insurance. We all assume that when we show our insurance card things are going to be covered.

The director said that one DOI staff person has been assigned to surprise billing, and that’s enough because not very many patients have filed formal complaints. Only 75 surprise billing complaints were received in 2019 and out of those 75 patients, 15 patients had complaints that were deemed to be legitimate for adjudication. Those 15 people got a total of $30,000.

I was shocked that the reach of this surprise billing complaint process was so minimal in a state with 7 million people. I know 15 people in my district who have surprise billing complaints, including my daughter and her husband. They have been charged tens of thousands of dollars in surprise bills since my granddaughter was discharged from the Nursery Intensive Care Unit (NICU) a year ago. Yes, more than a year after my granddaughter was born, they are still being billed. The TMC NICU holds ~30 tiny patients at a time. I am sure those other tiny babies’ families have similar surprise billing stories. And that is only one NICU in this state.

As the Democrats had theorized back in 2018, what we passed didn’t go far enough to protect patients. Rep. Kelli Butler and I worked with Senator Debbie Lesko to make her bill more patient-friendly. I insisted on a patient portal on the DOI website where people can start the complaint process and a printed notice on the surprise bill telling people they can protest the bill and giving them the DOI phone number and website address.

We need to fix this. Obviously, there are many more surprise bills out there, and people don’t understand the complete process.The DOI director said that Texas has already amended their surprise bill. He had suggestions– like lowering the threshold from $1000 to $500. He also said that they have published a surprise billing report, which he will send to me.

We should look at the report, our law and fix it. Or, we eliminate surprise billing all together and overhaul the healthcare insurance system. Medicare for all, anyone? The system we have today only works for big insurance and big Pharma, not the rest of us, obviously.

Virginia Dumped the #GOP & Passed the #ERA (video)

ERA wins multiple Capitol Times awards, 2019.

January 15, 2020 is a red letter day for the women of the United States because the Virginia Legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

While the Arizona Legislature has been tied up in pomp and circumstance, speeches, and meetings with lobbyists during this first week, Virginia got busy and passed the ERA. How did this move so quickly? The voters Virginia ousted the Republican majority from their legislature in the fall election and restored the Democratic Party to power in that state. Democrats get things done.

Now that Virginia has become the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA, it will be sent to the Congress to be made part of the Constitution.

Continue reading Virginia Dumped the #GOP & Passed the #ERA (video)

Microsoft Wants a Sales Tax Break Because ‘Electricity Is Too Expensive in Arizona’ (video)

starve the schools. feed the rich (sarcasm)

Should the Arizona Legislature help Microsoft pay its APS bills?

Tuesday was a light day at the Capital. There was no floor action, but I had time to catch up with colleagues and sign some of their bills. I wanted to tell you about the conversation I had with two Microsoft lobbyists about the tax break that Microsoft wants.

You may remember my blog post on Powers For The People (back in December) about the tax review committee that I was on, due to my membership on the Ways and Means Committee. One of the income tax credits that we reviewed was for an Apple international data center to be built with renewable energy in Mesa. At the time, Apple was offered a TPT (sales tax) break also, but the committee reviewed only the income tax break.

The lobbyists were in my office because Microsoft wants the TPT tax break that was offered to Apple. I told them that I really don’t support tax giveaways to multinational corporations. Period. I don’t support any tax giveaways when ~68% of Arizona women aren’t getting first trimester prenatal care, and that is contributing to AHCCCS wasting $2-4 billion dollars on premature births (Not to mention the long-term health effects of prematurity.) When thousands of Arizona mothers and their children are living in poverty with food and housing insecurity, why would I prioritize a tax break for one of the most successful corporations in the US?

The lobbyist told me that the reason Microsoft needed a TPT tax break because “electricity is too expensive in the state of Arizona.” Microsoft doesn’t want to pay sales tax on electricity for this giant data center. International data centers take a use a lot of electricity because it is a building full of servers and cooled to ~65 degrees. This particular tax break is related to data centers built with renewable (solar) energy, which will already lower their energy cost significantly.

Continue reading Microsoft Wants a Sales Tax Break Because ‘Electricity Is Too Expensive in Arizona’ (video)

On Opening Day of #AZLeg, Right-Wing Ideology & the Peoples’ Response on Display (video)

Monday, January 13, 2020, was opening day at the Arizona Legislature.

Opening day is always fun and full of political drama because there are protests, press conferences with multiple Progressive groups (labor unions, Planned Parenthood, teachers, and others), the House and Senate Democratic Caucus Press Conference, and a big party with great food hosted by House Dems on the 3rd floor.

Southern Arizona unionists filled two buses to come to the Capitol on Monday. Striking ASARCO miners were out in force. Recently, I have been seeing these guys on the strike line down at the ASARCO Mission Unit, when I am wearing a T-shirt, boots and jeans. One of them did a double take when he saw me in a dress, stockings, short high heels, and my power pearls at the Legislature.

Continue reading On Opening Day of #AZLeg, Right-Wing Ideology & the Peoples’ Response on Display (video)

‘Religious Liberty’ vs Patient Rights: Healthcare Providers Should Disclose Religious Restrictions to Care

Should science or religion determine treatment?

Should healthcare providers and institutions be allowed to deny services to patients based upon the provider’s “sincerely held religious beliefs”? I don’t think so. Discrimination is not OK.

This is the fourth year in a row that I have proposed a Patient’s Right to Know bill which requires healthcare providers and institutions to disclose upfront if they have any religious restrictions that would preclude them from providing all legal drugs and services within their scope of practice.

This is the first year that my bill made a splash in the news. Tucson residents may have seen the story about by bill HB2068 in the New Year’s Eve edition of the Arizona Daily Star, but it was also on the State of Reform website, in the Yellow Sheet (inserted below), and on KFYI radio. Providing or not providing services due to one’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” has been a hot topic since the infamous Hobby Lobby case in 2014.

HB2068’s popularity is likely due to the controversial nature of religious liberty legislation and to recent, high-profile court cases that harken back to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was proposed by Senator Ted Kennedy and then Congressman Chuck Schumer and signed into law by President Bill Clinton and in 1993. Although RFRA was declared unconstitutional21 states including Arizona have state RFRA laws, and the US Congress has passed 25 “conscience” bills related to healthcare.

When I was interviewed by one of the reporters he asked, “This is just about choice, right?” When I initially proposed this bill in 2017, it was about reproductive choice for me, but in 2019, when he asked me that question, I said, “No.” There are obviously other people who are being discriminated against for purportedly religious reasons.

Continue reading ‘Religious Liberty’ vs Patient Rights: Healthcare Providers Should Disclose Religious Restrictions to Care

Happy New Year! Thank You!

On Democracy Now recently, filmmaker and activist Michael Moore said voters want politicians who “won’t sell out” to special interests when they get into office.

Constituents have written to me and asked if I accept donations from the fossil fuel industry or the private prison industry or utility companies. I don’t accept donations from any of them, and I also don’t accept donations from Dirty Money political action committees, Planned Parenthood, unions, or corporate people. Running as a Clean Elections candidate I am free from special interest groups and the big money politics that swirls around me at the Capital.

Many thanks to everyone who everyone who answered my Christmas Eve Facebook post about wrapping up my Clean Elections Qualifying Contributions before the session starts on January 13, 2020. I need a minimum if 200 $5 donations (plus overage) from people in my district to qualify for public financing.

I currently have 215 $5 donations. I am over 200, but I need 230 to ensure a sufficient cushion (in case some are unreadable or otherwise disqualified). We can do this. The 2020 session will be a wild ride. I want to focus on you… the voters… while I am in Phoenix… not on campaigning.

Powers for the People volunteers
In 2019, my Postcard Party volunteers assembled, stamped, and labeled two mailings to voters and repurposed 1000s of 2018 palm cards for 2020 canvassing.

Many thanks to LD9 supporters who donated $5. I could not have done this without stalwart volunteers Lori Cinnamond, Barbara Warren, Jenise Pace Porter, Beth Britton and Alma Byrd who each took a stack of blank forms and returned them with $5s and to my husband Jim Hannley for cycling around Midtown with me collecting signatures and $5s. Also, I can’t forget the early work of my Postcard Party volunteers who helped with mass mailings to past $5 donors and who repurposed old 2018 campaign lit for 2020 canvassing. (Clean candidates are frugal.)

There’s still time to donate $5 and sign my petition if you live in LD9 and to donate seed money if you want to help but don’t live in LD9. All of the links are in this blog post.

Watch the Events tab on my Facebook page for canvassing opportunities beginning Saturday, January 4. I still need more signatures, and the temperatures are mild for walking the neighborhoods.

Thank you and Happy New Year. It has been an honor to serve you.

 Please donate $5 to Clean Elections on my behalf here.
Please sign My Petition here.
Donate “seed money” to Powers Hannley for House 2020
via PayPal here

 

 

Progressives & Libertarians Debate Tax Credits at #AZLeg Income Tax Credit Review (video)

Arizona Legislature tax review committee

For years, Democrats in the Legislature have been calling for a review of the tax credits and the other tax giveaways. The goal of the review process is to recommend continuation, amendment or repeal of tax credits.

Decades of “business friendly” bipartisan votes in the Legislature to reduce income taxes and boost the economy have left us with $661 million in income tax credits claimed (AKA lost revenue) and more than $1.6 billion in unclaimed tax credits, ready to be cashed in, according to David Lujan, executive director of the Center for Economic Progress.  This is not sustainable.

For the first time since 2014, the Joint Legislative Committee to Review Income Tax Credits met on Dec. 19, 2019. This was an historic day, and I was proud to be part of it.

According to statute, this committee is supposed to meet before the end of each calendar year and review tax credits that were passed in designated years. For this meeting, we reviewed tax credits that were passed in years ending in four and nine. We reviewed three tax credits that were recommended for elimination in 2014 (motion made by then Rep. J.D. Mesnard), but no action was taken by the Legislature to actually repeal them. Two of those– Healthy Forest Tax Credit and the Agriculture Pollution Control Tax Credit– were again recommended for elimination at 2019 meeting because they have been mostly unused for years. Income tax credits that are not used for more than four fiscal years are supposed to disappear, but somehow they hang around in the code, even Senator and Committee Chair J.D. Mesnard complained about this at the meeting. The majority voted to continue the other tax credits with additional performance measures attached in some cases. (For the recorded, I voted to repeal all of them. Read on and learn why.)

Continue reading Progressives & Libertarians Debate Tax Credits at #AZLeg Income Tax Credit Review (video)

2020 Could Be a Wild Ride in the Arizona Legislature

Arizona Legislature

In just a few weeks, the second session of the 54th Legislature and my fourth year in elected office will begin. In has been a jam-packed but productive interim with community events, tours, meetings at the capitol, and conferences on taxes, finance and public health.

One of the more informative meetings I attended this fall was the Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA) outlook meeting. I have wanted to attend the ATRA meeting for years but chickened out because I knew I would be the only Democratic Legislator. I was the only Democrat, and I’m glad I went.

At the ATRA meeting, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann announced her intention to wrap up the next session quickly — in less than the targeted 100 days or the usual ~120 days. Rumor has it that the Republican goal is 85 days for the 2020 session. You’ll remember that in 2019 the Arizona Legislature voted to move the primary election day up from the end of August to the beginning of August. The related deadlines also have moved up, with the signature deadline falling during the time frame we are usually in session (March 7 – April 6, 2020). Fann gave a nod to tough election in 2020, when she told ATRA attendees that she wants to hear the budget by crossover week in February. She added that Senators Vince Leach and David Gowan have been “building the backbone of the budget” during the interim. She warned Republican Legislators in the ATRA audience that if the budget is not done according to her timetable, she will halt all other bills to focus on the budget and push it through. Given that we didn’t end the last session until Memorial Day, 85 days seems unrealistic to pass the usual 300 or more pieces of legislation. (Of course, passing fewer unnecessary bills could be a good thing for the people of Arizona… depending upon which bills they are.)

Why the escalated pace? Rushing the process means less negotiation, less information, less time to ask questions and seek alternative opinions, less time for constituents to voice their opinions on Request to Speak or at the Capitol, and more opportunity for mistakes and remorseful votes.

Continue reading 2020 Could Be a Wild Ride in the Arizona Legislature

Big Banks, Big Insurance, Big Pharma & Big Housing: Corporate America Is Burying Us in Fees

Thanks for the poverty

Working for a living is hard. You have to get out of bed early, get dressed… maybe even put wear a silly uniform that you were required to purchase… drop the kids off at school, drive around to find parking or sit on a bench waiting for the bus, rush to work to be on time, and repeat in reverse after work a few hours later. If you are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, the complexity and aggravation of daily life grow exponentially … one grueling day after another.

Decades ago, Wall Street bankers learned that making money off of other people by charging fees for absolutely everything their accountants can think of… and then charging late fees upon those fees… is an fast route to Easy Street. Banks and other lending institutions are masters at making money from fees (as opposed to real work).

The Fee Game is now pervasive across Corporate America. As a result, We the People are getting fleeced at every turn. People complain about high taxes from the government, while Corporate America is slipping billions of dollars out of our pockets in service fees, administrative fees, application fees, late fees, nonpayment fees, stop payment fees, online payment fees, nonrefundable deposits, usurious interest rates,  junk health insurance, unaffordable health insurance premiums, co-pays, coinsurance, and the list goes on. It’s no wonder people are strapped for cash. We’re being nickel and dimed into bankruptcy by Corporate America, while Congress and state Legislatures bend over backwards to be “business friendly.” For more about The Fee Game and how lucrative it is… read on…

Continue reading Big Banks, Big Insurance, Big Pharma & Big Housing: Corporate America Is Burying Us in Fees

Democracy Now: Compelling Stories about Extreme Wealth & Extreme Poverty in California (video)

Safe Park Homeless camp 2015
Safe Park Dream Pod, Tucson 2015
Safe Park Dream Pods for Tucson homeless,  2015

Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now radio show has a long history of hard-hitting, investigative journalism. Today’s show (October 25) juxtaposed Progressive Congresswomen Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib grilling Facebook CEO with a story about homelessness in California.

These stories represent the two sides of California– a land of extreme wealth and innovation that also houses 50 percent of our country’s homeless population, according to Goodman.

Excerpted from “State of Emergency”: Special Report on California’s Criminalization of Growing Homeless Encampments

“In a Democracy Now! special report, we look at the rise in homelessness in many major cities across the United States. California has become the poster child for this economic and humanitarian disaster, with growing encampments in Los Angeles and the Bay Area as more people are forced onto the streets. The state is home to 12% of the country’s population but half of the country’s unsheltered people. As the crisis deepens, so has the criminalization of homelessness, with increasing efforts by city and state officials to crack down on unhoused people occupying public space. President Donald Trump made headlines this month for attacking California’s politicians over the homelessness crisis, threatening to destroy encampments, increase police enforcement and even jail unhoused people. But advocates say California has already employed hostile policies that criminalize homelessness, from laws against unsheltered people sitting on sidewalks to frequent sweeps of the encampments that have popped up on thoroughfares and under freeways across the state’s cities. One of these crackdowns is currently unfolding at a massive Oakland encampment that Democracy Now! visited just a few weeks ago.”

Watch the video and read the story here.