Arizona Should Follow Trump’s Lead by Pushing for Transparency in Healthcare Costs

Strong hospital and insurance lobbies have long strived to block efforts in the state to give consumers more information about what health care services cost.  Just last year, there was a bill at the legislature to require hospitals to provide the relative costs of services to a database that would allow consumers to discern high cost versus lower cost providers in the market and therefore make more informed decisions about their healthcare. 

House Bill 2603 would have been particularly helpful for businesses and organizations that are self-insured and engineering their networks for employee insurance plans.  Armed with even just the weighted average payor rate and the annual rate of growth would have facilitated major shifts in behavior by these more sophisticated insurance plan architects, forcing premiums down over time and saving the end user money.

This bill was killed last year by the healthcare lobby in the legislature. 

Just a couple months after, President Trump filed his executive order requiring Health and Human Services set regulations requiring the disclosure of the secret rates insurers pay hospitals.  Since then his administration has been promulgating rules to prevent “surprise billing” as well as requiring hospitals to share the discounts they give cash-paying patients.

This isn’t the only step Trump has taken to administratively unwind the massive red tape of the ACA.  In the summer of 2018, they loosened rules to allow for short term health plans.  A measure Republicans rightfully codified in Arizona in the 2019 legislative session.

What Trump understands that Republican lawmakers should learn in Arizona – is without a repeal of Obamacare – policymakers must find alternative ways to empower choice and flexibility in the marketplace.  

Without incremental changes that put consumers in the drivers’ seat, the ratchet will only turn more toward government run, single-payer healthcare, accompanied by the price controls and rationed care that comes with it.

Luckily, Arizona lawmakers will have an opportunity to redeem themselves next session when an updated version of HB 2603 will be introduced. We will see once again who supports price transparency and who will carry the water for the healthcare lobby.

With the 2020 elections looming, healthcare is on the mind of voters.  Absent a major righting of the ship in the way of repealing Obamacare, Republicans must provide market and consumer-driven solutions to lower costs and increase choice and quality.  The President has the right idea.  Hopefully lawmakers in Arizona continue to follow his lead.

Education Groups Demand More K-12 Funding While School Districts go on Administration Spending Spree

Here is an under-reported education fact: K-12 schools in Arizona have received over $1 Billion in new funding from the state over the last two years. This infusion of cash is the largest education spending increase in state history, boosting per pupil funding by 20 percent. Even adjusting for inflation, we are now back to the pre-recession funding levels for education last reached in 2008, which was the previous high water mark for K-12 spending by the state.

One would hope that our policymakers are keeping close tabs on this massive expansion of funding and scrutinizing how our tax dollars are being spent. Instead, it appears that state lawmakers are preparing to skip this step and commit more dollars to K-12, no questions asked.  

Hopefully this attitude will change with news that the largest school district in the state decided to use their K-12 funding boost to go on an administration spending spree:

“Even as teachers were canvassing neighborhoods, fighting to pass a budget override in the state’s largest school district, new documents reveal Mesa Public Schools Governing Board members were handing out hefty bonuses and spending record amounts on administration in the district’s front office.

Budget documents and memoranda obtained by ABC15 show the district’s administrative spending soared more than 42 percent from 2018 to 2019, exceeding its own budget by more than three-quarters of a million dollars.

The new revelations about administrative spending come just a day after the governing board voted to put Superintendent Ember Conley on administrative leave, signaling it is parting ways with the district’s leader, who has only been on the job since March of 2018. The board is expected to buy out the remainder of her contract – a cost which is expected to exceed $500,000.”

A large chunk of the payouts went toward bonuses to employees close to embattled Superintendent Ember Conley. Twelve members of her executive team received $22,500 bonuses, while several others had large amounts put into tax sheltered annuities.

Adding insult to injury is all of this largesse occurred behind the scenes while the district actively pushed for more funding through a budget override. Voters in the East Valley are outraged and one ex-school board member has filed a criminal complaint with the Attorney General’s office to investigate the matter.

Taxpayers deserve answers, but it’s unclear if they will ever get any.  At last week’s district meeting, the Mesa school board refused to discuss why Superintend Conley was placed on leave, and provided no explanation as to why the district spending spree was hidden from the public. They did, however, attempt to defend the payouts and declared that exceeding the approved administration budget wasn’t really an issue.

The lack of candor isn’t surprising given the current political environment surrounding K-12 funding. There is tremendous hubris among the education establishment, based on the belief that policymakers are afraid to hold them accountable.

That is how you end up with several education groups openly bickering on what tax hikes (sales, property, income, all of the above?) to send to the ballot in 2020. It appears they have concluded it is politically unnecessary to explain how the additional $20,000 per classroom provided by the state has been spent or justify why a tax increase is required given the news that Arizona has amassed a $500 Million (and growing) budget surplus for next year.  

The only way this cycle ends is if Governor Ducey and the State Legislature send a clear signal that future K-12 appropriations will be tied to results, accountability and reform. If they don’t, then taxpayers should expect more demands for additional education spending and higher taxes with no explanations or expectations that it is being used wisely.