Here's your bonus Farley Report for September, featuring details on the new healthcare exchanges and how they can benefit you, and a couple of tele-town halls I'm hosting where you can get your questions answered by folks who know the answers.
A few quick things to start:
--> Some of you may have heard that I was under consideration as Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the US Department of Transportation. I wanted to let you know that I have decided to not take the job even if offered to me, and furthermore, I am officially announcing my campaign for re-election as your State Senator in District 9.
In recent weeks it became clear to me that there is so much yet to accomplish here in Tucson and Arizona, and after seven years I am finally getting pretty good at getting things done in the Legislature. I love this town -- the people, the place, the culture, and the spirit. It's not time for me to leave.
I hope you are happy with my decision, and are willing to support me in my campaign. Due to the new campaign limits of $4,000 per person (with higher limits for PACs), no matter how little we like it, money will be more important than ever in determining who wins and who loses in the Arizona Legislature.
My opponents (whoever they may be) may get more deep pockets in their corner, but I feel confident I can match them stride for stride with your passion for good governance on my side. Please help me out in any way you can, starting tonight. Thank you!
--> Next Tuesday I will be honored as the Arizona Public Policy Leader of the Year in the category of Arts and Humanities as selected by the Arizona Capitol Times. Out of the 18 honorees, there are only seven elected officials, and I am the only Democrat among them.
While it is humbling to be singled out, in this case primarily for spearheading the new Arts and Parks funding in this session's budget, there are so many people on both sides of the aisle who were essential in enacting this statewide investment in our culture, heritage, and economy. I wish they could all be honored as well.
--> Most of you know I've been working for more than 12 years now with a bunch of great folks to bring rail transit and its economic benefits to Tucson. A couple of Fridays ago, we dedicated our first Modern Streetcar.
The atmosphere of community celebration was highlighted by a surprise visit from Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords. Gabby and I shared a stage when then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to town in February 2010 to announce the $63 million TIGER grant for the streetcar, and it was wonderful to see her so happy to see the fruits of our labor come true.
A group of us has joined with former Mayor Bob Walkup to create an organization called Friends of the Tucson Streetcar to spread the word on the economic and social benefits of the streetcar and counter the naysayers with facts. You and your business or group can sign on as a Friend of the Streetcar by going to our temporary website http://www.streetcarfriends.org/ The site is soon to be expanded with lots and lots of useful content -- for now you can see a list of some of our Friends to date and find a link to some cool pix on our Facebook page.
--> This Thursday, the four major cell phone companies are promoting "It Can Wait" day to urge people to commit to never texting while driving. I am using the occasion to send a letter to the Director of Public Safety urging him to implement immediately three steps that can save lives on our roadways by reducing distracted driving. None of them require legislative action:
(1) Collect detailed data on accident reports regarding distraction as a cause of the accident. Nevada recently adopted legislation requiring such comprehensive data be collected. We can accomplish the same with a simple ADOT rule adoption.
(2) Aggressively enforce the reckless driving statutes currently in law to pull over and charge texting drivers. Even formidable opponent Senate President Biggs has stated that texting while driving should be considered reckless driving according to state law.
(3) Aggressively enforce our “speed not reasonable or prudent” law to pull over and cite texting drivers. Regardless of speed, it is never reasonable or prudent to text while driving.
I will let you know the Director's response in the next report.
--> I am serving on an Income Tax Reform committee that meets every other week at the Capitol. Alongside my colleague Rep. Bruce Wheeler we are fighting to make sure that the committee does not seek to institute a "flat tax" in Arizona. You may remember that a few years back, Rep. Steve Court passed a flat tax through the House before a fiscal analysis was delivered. Once that report was released, it showed that a flat tax would raise taxes on 88% of Arizona taxpayers -- everyone earning less than $100,000 a year.
One would have thought that would be enough to put a stake in the heart of any future discussion of the flat tax, but this committee seems to be trying to dress it up and try it out again, perhaps finding some way to "mitigate" the negative effects. My message is: If you have to work so hard to make something remotely palatable, maybe there's something wrong with the concept in the first place.
--> Now onto the future of your health:
From 1991 to 2005, like many other self-employed small business owners, I experienced a yearly struggle in trying to find and keep health coverage. We self-employed folks are considered a bad risk by big insurers, so before the federal healthcare reform they did their best to chase us away. I experienced year after year of 20-30% premium increases, rejection of coverage for pre-existing conditions, and climbing deductibles.
At last I found a plan that worked for me -- it was "community rated", meaning premiums were set based on the cost of care for the community at large, not the size of my group, so they were half the cost of my previous plan. The deductibles were low, and the coverage was good. The plan happened to be run by private providers and managed by the State of Arizona. It was called HealthCare Group (HCG), and it was a revelation for me and many other very small businesses.
When you gave me the privilege of representing you in the Legislature, I was given a health insurance plan subsidized by taxpayers. But I never forgot the importance of HCG, and from my first year onward led the efforts to defend it against all threats by members of the majority who believed that the government should not be involved in health insurance at all.
I did succeed in saving the plan from countless attempts on its life, but I was not able to stop the majority from removing sole proprietors from eligibility and hiking deductibles and premiums. Consequently, HCG members who once numbered around 30,000 have now dwindled to 9,000.
On December 31, 2013, HCG will cease to exist. Strangely enough, that is now actually a good thing, given its current status of a ghost of a once-great plan, and given the opportunities presented by the new health exchanges starting on October 1.
Those health exchanges, which you can preview right now at http://www.healthcare.gov/, will work very much like travel sites -- Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, Hipmunk, and the like -- in that you will be able to enter your specific information and receive a selection of competing plans, their coverages, and their costs to you.
I have it under good authority that, while it is OK to check it out the first week of October, you are best advised to wait a few weeks before you make your final decision. This is the first rollout of a very complicated system, and you don't want to be the early beta tester.
The health plan you provide me as a legislator is excellent. I believe everyone deserves a plan that good. I also believe the exchanges hold the promise of making that happen.
If you already have insurance through your employer, you probably won't see much change. If you are on Medicare or AHCCCS, you won't see much change either, unless you are single childless adult and are now restored to eligibility. But if you currently buy from the individual market, are a business with less than 25 employees, do not have insurance (even if you have pre-existing conditions), or are a sole proprietor, the exchanges will likely increase your coverages, lower your deductibles, and reduce your premiums.
To help you navigate these new waters, I have convened two tele-town halls next week, with special guests who know a whole lot about how to help make the exchanges work for you. Please tell your friends and family, especially those who are self-employed and/or with pre-existing conditions -- this call could literally be life-changing.
My two special guests will be Herb Schultz and Jennifer Carusetta. Dr. Schultz is the Region IX Director for the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, and will tell you all you need to know about how the exchanges work and how you can save real money while increasing your peace of mind. Ms Carusetta works at AHCCCS and she is helping with the transition from HCG to the exchanges, so she can help HCG members and also give information on where Medicaid-eligible people fit in and what happens if their income bounces them out from time to time.
I will convene two separate calls which hopefully fit in with your schedule, no matter what it may be:
Tuesday, September 24, at 2:00pm
Wednesday, September 25, at 7:00pm
To take part, dial 559-726-1200, then punch in your access code: 448012 followed by the # sign. The calls should last about an hour each, and we will field as many of your questions as time allows.
And as you have come to expect, I will keep you informed of the twists and turns as time marches on.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley