Formal opposition to county hospital bond measure begins

AZ Central
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Michelle Ye Hee Lee
A formal opposition campaign was launched Monday against Proposition 480, a $935million bond measure for Maricopa County's special health-care district, setting the stage for a debate leading up to the Nov.4 election.

The Yes on 480 campaign already is well on its way to surpassing its $1million fundraising mark, according to campaign-finance documents filed in August. It was considered by many as a feat for a ballot campaign. The campaign has drawn support from a wide range of community leaders, medical professionals and state- and local-government officials.

But the opposition is now gaining steam, formalizing a campaign that has been backed by two of Arizona's taxpayer-watchdog groups, executives of the Valley's four largest private hospital systems and others. Opposition to Prop. 480 has been building in recent months but had been largely informal until Monday.

Prop. 480 asks Maricopa County voters to authorize a bond of up to $935million to fund new and renovated facilities for the Maricopa Integrated Health System, a publicly funded hospital system that also serves as a safety net for the Valley's underinsured and uninsured.

The role the district plays in the Valley and beyond, plus the amount of money being asked of voters, have become the main points of contention.

Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, is chairman of No on Prop. 480. Hospital executives from Abrazo Health, Banner Health, Dignity Health and Scottsdale Lincoln Health Network have questioned whether the measure is necessary, but have stopped short of mounting formal opposition.

Additional opponents include the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a non-profit that has sparked debate over the influence of "dark money" through record spending in Arizona elections.

McCarthy criticized the timing of the bond proposal, saying taxpayers already are paying more to subsidize health care through Medicaid expansion. The bond measure would further burden taxpayers, he said. There needs to be a debate over the long-term purpose of a publicly funded health-care district before we spend more money on the system, he said.

"It's the public investment. There's only so much money in the private economy to fund state and local government," McCarthy said.

The measure proposes to "right-size" the Maricopa Integrated Health System by matching its facilities to patient demands and transitioning into a network of community-based clinics. Part of the decentralization includes replacing Maricopa Medical Center with a facility of fewer beds, investing in community clinics across the Valley where there is greatest need for care and building a new behavioral-health facility.

A 15-member citizens committee endorsed the overhaul after more than a year of studying and analyzing the system's structure, mission and finances. The committee found it would be more cost effective to replace certain facilities than to pay for maintenance and repairs.

Proponents of Prop. 480 argue that the county health system has a unique patient population and fulfills a mission no other hospital in the Valley does.

"Yes on 480 is proud to have the public backing of a wide coalition of business, philanthropic and community leaders, as well as elected officials, public-safety and medical professionals," Yes on 480 spokesman Chip Scutari said in a statement. "We look forward to an open and honest debate about this fiscally responsible solution to updating MIHS, which serves a critical role in meeting the health-care needs that every great community deserves."

According to the Prop. 480 support campaign, the average homeowner would pay $13.74 a year per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

The Arizona Tax Research Association estimates the measure will cost $1.4billion when interest on the bonds over 27 years is taken into account.