Feathered Bastard

Andy Biggs, the $10 Million Chairman, and His Tuesday Night Massacre

It's apropos that state Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Andy Biggs, the man primarily responsible for a bill that will drive a Ryder Truck full of nitro through the state's Medicaid program, is himself a very wealthy man.

He's not rich through any sweat of his brow. He's not self-made. Hell, he didn't even inherit his fortune. Instead, he hit the jackpot. Quite literally.

You see, in 1993 Biggs won the American Family Sweepstakes, the one Ed McMahon and Dick Clark used to shill for back in the day. This has allowed the Gilbert Republican to live pretty well and care-free, despite the measly pay legislators receive. Though he has a law degree from the University of Arizona, he doesn't have to practice.

And I think we can all assume that when he or any member of his family is ill, they receive the best health care money can buy. And then some.

In 2002, when he was first running for the state House from Legislative District 22, he had this to say to the Arizona Republic:

"I can't say it (the $10 million) is my reason for running for office...But it does make it easier in that I don't have to answer 'How can you live on $24,000 a year?'"

Biggs was elected to the state Senate last year (after eight years in the House), and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee is a pretty plum assignment. In fact, it's state Senate President Russell Pearce's old job, a very influential gig. Other Senators bow and scrape before him.

So why does a powerful, millionaire-by-chance want to do away with the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the agency that administers federal and state (but mostly federal) Medicaid funds to the poor, the indigent, and those who just happen the be down on their luck in a bad economy?

Well, Biggs is an ideologue who believes AHCCCS is "socialized medicine," the bugbear of the far right. Of course, he's wrong. Socialized medicine would mean that everyone in America would be on one, federal plan. But that's not the case, even in the wake of the Obama administration's health care reform.

Medicaid is a last resort for the 1.8 million who use it in Arizona at any given time during the year. It's a safety net, not socialized medicine. By terminating AHCCCS, Biggs and other radical Republicans would save the state about $900 million, and forgo about $7.6 billion that the feds send our way for the program.

Biggs' Senate Bill 1519 -- which passed out of Appropriations during Tuesdays' marathon session, a session that could be rightfully dubbed the "Tuesday Night Massacre," for all the harm it did -- would give $900 million to the Arizona Department of Health Services to administer to the needy and indigent per annum. (The other $900 million goes to the state's general fund.)

"How do we fill the gap for all those people who need health care?" state Senator Kyrsten Sinema asked Biggs in committee. "$900 million is not the same as $1.8 [billion], plus $7.6 [billion]."

Biggs replied, "I don't make up that money, it's just that simple."

Now, you may be of a certain mean-spirited mindset that says, "To heck with the poor, they deserve their fate." Or you may think people should rely on private charity or family for support, though how either would pay your chemo tab if you have cancer is beyond me.

But even if you're Archie Bunker reincarnated, there's this thing called self-preservation. As both Sinema and Republican state Senator Rich Crandall observed at length, all hospitals rely on Medicaid money (as well as other federal funds) to survive.

Sick people who no longer have AHCCCS will inevitably flood emergency rooms. There will be no other place to go.

Sinema worried this would lead to a collapse of the hospitals in this state, particularly in rural areas, where medical centers depend heavily on that Medicaid money. Crandall, a CPA who once had a job auditing Arizona's hospitals, spoke with authority on Biggs' catastrophe-in-the-making.

"Let's talk about what would really happen," said Crandall of the possibility that Biggs' bill becomes law and goes into effect. "The first thing that will happen is that literally by Christmas time, there will not be a rural hospital open in Arizona. That's not a pie in the sky thing...[that] includes Yuma Medical Center, [that] includes Flagstaff Medical Center. I've seen their financials. I've been auditor for a long time."

Maricopa Integrated Health System would also crumble by Christmas, according to Crandall. MIHS includes trauma centers and the county hospital. Say bye-bye to that.

Crandall described the devastating economic fallout that would result from the collapse of the hospitals. Even if you aren't concerned about men, women and children dying on the street, corporations will not choose to open up shop in a state where the health care system is in shambles.

What did Biggs have to say to this? 

"[What] I inferred from what you said is, socialized medicine brings jobs," he told Crandall. Biggs then went on to lecture everyone about why socialized medicine is bad.

Crandall accused Biggs of twisting his words. 

Biggs replied, "Here's the way I take what you said. Socialized medicine is what our healthcare system is. Without it, it collapses. Without that, then business doesn't come to Arizona. Right?...I don't know that I disagree with that."

Um, like, yikes. Other Republicans suggested this bill would merely be cudgel with which they could force stakeholders to talk about reform. The bill will still have to pass the Senate and House and get the Governor's signature, of course.

But I wonder how many GOPers there are in the legislature who believe that the U.S. should go back to the days of the Great Depression, pre-FDR. When there wasn't a safety net, and if you didn't have a job, you starved. And if your daughter got really sick, she died.

Indeed, state Senator Sylvia "The Earth-is-6,000-years-old" Allen waxed poetic about Herbert Hoover's America during committee. Seems that if our state recession doesn't turn into a depression on its own, by gum, the Republinuts will make it happen.

Naturally, Chairman Biggs won't have to worry about that. Ten million dollars, as you can imagine, buys a lot of peace of mind.