California union helps launch health care ballot initiative in Arizona

Healthcare Rising Arizona, a health care activist organization, announced it had filed paperwork on Monday to launch a ballot initiative containing several new mandates that would affect the health care industry in Arizona.

“Every single one of us will need health care this year. It’s something that we all share in common. Healthcare Rising Arizona is committed to working to make the health care system better for everyone,” Jenny David, a registered nurse and chair of Arizonans Fed Up with Failing Healthcare, the ballot committee set up to run the initiative, said. “We’re going to work to improve the quality of our health care and improve the standard of living for health care workers.”

Named the Stop Surprise Billing and Protect Patients Act, the ballot measure needs roughly 237,000 signatures by July 2020 and would accomplish four things:

  • Prevent Arizonans from receiving surprise medical bills from out of network providers and require refunds if patients are overcharged;
  • Require private hospitals to meet national safety standards regarding hospital-acquired infections as well as give the Arizona Department of Health Services the authority to impose civil penalties if a hospital fails to meet those standards;
  • Give direct care hospital workers (nurses, aides, technicians, janitorial and housekeeping staff, social workers and nonmanagerial administrative staff) a five percent raise each year for four years; and
  • Ban discrimination based on pre-existing conditions at the state level.

Healthcare Rising Arizona is funded by California-based labor union Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW).

According to the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AzHHA), the ballot proposal would increase patient costs across the board.

“This California-based union, famous for picketing hospitals, is asking Arizonans to vote for an initiative that won’t improve their health care and will end up costing them more,” AzHHA President and Chief Executive Officer Ann-Marie Alameddin said in a statement. “Moreover, it has a track record of using ballot initiatives not to improve healthcare in Arizona, but to leverage its bargaining position with California hospitals.”

This marks the third straight election cycle in which SEIU-UHW has attempted to put a health care-related citizen initiative on the ballot in Arizona.

In 2016, the organization tried running a ballot measure regarding the pay structure of hospital executives, but it never reached the ballot after the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other opponents questioned the validity of its signatures in court.

In 2018, the union started a citizen initiative that would have capped costs for kidney dialysis but ultimately halted it.

If the 2020 measure obtains enough signatures to secure a place on the ballot, it will mark two elections in a row with a proposition driven by out-of-state activists. In 2018, California billionaire Tom Steyer bankrolled a renewable energy initiative campaign that was soundly defeated.

Emily Richardson

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