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Klapp: Arizonans need targeted health care fixes


People all over our state are increasingly concerned about the substantial, long-standing vulnerabilities in our health care system’s capacity, equitability, and affordability.

Patients are asking for a change from a primary focus on the COVID-19 pandemic in the health care conversation to assurances that their elected representatives are dealing with the biggest health care problem — it’s too expensive.

According to recent research from ALG Research and Hart Research conducted on behalf of Consumers for Quality Care, four in five Arizonans believe the amount they pay for health care seems to be going up every year.

Rising premiums, high deductibles, and surprise and toxic bills add to the financial stress many families are facing.

In fact, 74% of Arizona voters are concerned they won’t be able to afford a high deductible and 69% are worried they will need to delay seeking care due to the cost.

Not only are health care costs rising, but some health care providers are engaging in predatory billing practices that leave Arizonans in significant debt and financial crisis. Arizona receives low marks on medical debt, ranking sixth highest in the U.S. for medical debt in collection.

Forty-six percent of the Arizona population are members of communities of color and their average debt in collection is $979 per capita. That is 15.3% higher than their white neighbors, leaving them disproportionally impacted by toxic debt collection practices.

Nearly 40% of the Latino population actively has an unpaid or overdue medical bill, compared to 29% in the general population. That percentage rises to a staggering 53% when it comes to families already struggling financially.

Countless Arizonans are experiencing the negative impacts of anti-consumer insurance practices. One example is a retiree in the Pinetop-Lakeside area who received a surprise medical bill for $14,500 for two MRIs, reported last year by local media. He later found out that he had purchased a junk insurance plan that’s known as short-term limited-duration insurance (STLDI).

STLDI plans are exempt from many of the rules that govern other insurance plans and provide limited coverage along with higher out-of-pocket costs.

Reigning in costs by making targeted fixes such as ending toxic billing and debt collection practices and prohibiting the sale of STLDI plans should be a top priority for our federal and state lawmakers. These are the health care issues that Arizonans are facing every day.

To its credit, Arizona and the federal government have already taken a few steps to protect consumers from out-of-control health care costs. In 2017, Representative Debbie Lesko spearheaded a bill at the state level to curb the practice of surprise billing by out-of-network providers and created an arbitration process to settle disputes.

And federally, the Biden Administration recently implemented the No Surprises Act meant to protect privately insured people from unanticipated medical bills.

Yet, consumers still need more protection from rising health care costs and unacceptable practices, so some Arizona citizens are taking matters into their own hands.

Healthcare Rising Arizona filed the Predatory Debt Collection Act, which may appear on the ballot in 2022. This initiative would cap interest rates on medical debt and judgments on medical debt, increase the value of property exempt from medical debt enforcement, and reduce the amount of income subject to garnishment.

These would all be positive steps to protect consumers from the financial ruin caused by medical debt. Our representatives must continue working to ensure health care providers cease toxic debt collection practices and put patients ahead of profits.

Americans, by and large, are more concerned with health care costs than costs related to retirement, housing, childcare, and higher education, as previous CQC research has shown. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed serious flaws in Arizona health care and nationwide, returning to the status quo would be denying Arizonans voices.

Instead, Arizonans need our elected officials to implement common-sense health care reforms that lower consumer costs, expand access, and create a more equitable health care system.

Editor’s Note: Suzanne Klapp is a Scottsdale resident, businesswoman and former City Council member.