If you happen to be sick and poor and are among the 98 people in Arizona who are awaiting state-funded organ transplants, you’ve just been handed a death sentence.
This morning, NPR reported on cuts to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the statewide health care provider for poor and disabled people. AHCCCS said it would pay for organ transplant procedures, then went back and reversed itself, citing risk evidence that critics say was tailored to give them cover for this unthinkable action.
Instead of trying to save the lives of these people, who had been told that they had a chance to spend a few more years with their families, the Arizona legislature has chosen to take away their hope in order to save an estimated $4.5 million.
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Facing a projected $1.5 billion budget deficit, the state of Arizona has decided to make poor people pay with their lives instead of making rich people pay with their treasure.
This didn’t have to happen. In a special election in January 2010, the people of Oregon (a state with a comparable average income as Arizona) decided to raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations instead of cutting essential services. Despite an all-out effort to convince voters that taxing the rich would hurt the poor, voters approved Measures 66 and 67, raising tax rates on those most able to pay and allocating the money to preserve state services.
Our economy for the past decade or more has been built on lies. Superfueled by greed and so-called “innovation” in the financial sector, it finally careened off the road and slammed head-on into the cement wall of reality. Instead of taxing the people who caused and profited from this situation, our political system has bailed them out, buried their crimes and passed the costs onto the most vulnerable – people like the 98 poor men and women who were told their lives might be saved, only to have that hope taken away.
The right wing is full of lies and excuses about the economic “logic” of cutting government programs. But what they will not tell you is that some of these programs are literally the only hope for people at the bottom of the economy. By standing in the way of economic justice, conservative politicians make their fantasies of brutal “health care rationing” and “death panels” into reality.
In Arizona, 98 families may be forced to watch a loved one die slowly. The rest of us must take a moment to accept responsibility for allowing this to happen and ask ourselves what we can do about it. Instead of hoping for a good-hearted philanthropist to break off some crumbs to pay for these surgeries, we must reclaim our power to force society and government to take care of the least among us.