by David Safier
A news release from the Democratic Caucus in the state house says the funding to deal with health crises like the swine flu was wiped out by the 2009 budget cuts:
Officials identified on Wednesday the first case of Swine Flu in Arizona.
House Democrats also are asking Gov. Jan Brewer to use flexible federal stimulus dollars to re-establish the Health Crisis Fund and hope to work together with both the legislature and the governor in a bipartisan way to combat this statewide health emergency.
“Arizona has its first case of the Swine Flu, and as the outbreak spreads, it is extremely important that Arizona is prepared,” said House Democratic Leader David Lujan. He and House Democratic lawmakers had just taken a tour of the Department of Health Services laboratory as part of a series of weekly tours House Democrats are taking to see the affects of budget cuts on public and private facilities.
“But in the 2009 budget cuts, the legislature chose to repeal our state’s Health Crisis Fund, which was a fund specifically set aside for a health crisis or a significant potential for a health crisis that exists in the state,” Lujan said.
In January, the Health Crisis Fund contained $500,000 to combat health crises like these. Lawmakers chose to repeal the law that mandates the state to have a Health Crisis Fund as a budget balancing measure in 2009.
In addition to cutting the Health Crisis Fund, the legislature decided to eliminate 2-1-1, the state’s emergency information system. This could have also aided the state in disseminating information regarding a Swine Flu outbreak.
“That leaves Arizona with no emergency funding specifically set aside for a crisis like the Swine Flu,” said Assistant House Democratic Leader Kyrsten Sinema.
The Health Crisis Fund, funded by Tobacco Tax dollars from the Medically Needy Account, was established in 1997 as an Arizona law created to combat an unanticipated health emergency.
Per statute, money from the Health Crisis Fund could be distributed “if the governor determines and declares by executive order that a health crisis or significant potential for a health crisis exists in this state.”
“If the Health Crisis Fund still existed, Gov. Brewer could declare that a significant potential for a health crisis exists and we could use that funding to prepare and combat the Swine Flu,” Sinema said. “This is a big cause for concern because Arizona no longer has an emergency fund for a crisis like the Swine Flu.”
Prior to January 2009, permanent statute allocated $1 million each year from to the Health Crisis Fund and capped distributions from the fund at $1 million annually. Last year, for example, the state used $500,000 to combat a measles outbreak and to prevent syphilis outbreaks.
In 2008, the legislature’s budget had already cut the Health Crisis Fund cap in half from $1 million to $500,000.
But in the 2009 budget fix, the legislature chose to repeal the law mandating the Health Crisis Fund altogether and cut all funding for 2-1-1.
“Now virtually this health issue is left up to the state Department of Health Services,” said House Democratic Whip Chad Campbell. “It is our hope that Gov. Brewer will also use flexible federal stimulus money to prepare Arizona for this crisis. In a health crisis like this, we all need to work together in a bipartisan way to do what is best for our state.”