Tucsonans react to the healthcare debate in Washington D.C. - Tucson News Now

Tucsonans react to the healthcare debate in Washington D.C.

Bill Gibson, just one of thousands in Arizona on Medicaid. (Source: Tucson News Now) Bill Gibson, just one of thousands in Arizona on Medicaid. (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

69-year-old Bill Gibson has been on Medicaid for three years. He gets $617 a month in Social Security and $50 a month in food stamps.

Medicaid is his only life line to health care.

"I don't go to the doctor much and I have only a couple of prescriptions," he said.

Gibson volunteers at Armory Park Neighborhood Center to help people and to keep him busy. And he doesn't think too much about the health care debate in Washington.

"I try not to worry about things I can't do something about," he said.

He is likely to lose his health care coverage if the present Senate alternative passes, along with an estimated 22 to 32 million others.

"If I lose it, I'll just take it from there," he said. "I just don't know what to do right now."

That's sort of where the El Rio Neighborhood Health Center stands right now. The fate of the bill is uncertain but the impacts could be large for the Center.

"If repeal, total repeal happens, we're talking about a $13 million or so hit per year to us into 2026," said Doug Spegman, the Chief Clinical Officer at El Rio.

The Center has been running through worst case scenarios to try to make contingency plans for what comes next.

It serves 10,000 Medicaid patients annually, many of whom were "pay out of pocket" patients until the state of Arizona expanded Medicaid three years ago.

The Medicaid expansion has cut that number in half from about 30 percent of its patients to 15 percent.

Many of them now get health exams and preventative care that they could never have imagined before, which is much less expensive than emergency room care..

"I'm not sure how many would continue to do that, or could continue," said Spegman. "It would end up costing more ."

It's estimated 100,000 people in Pima County receive Medicaid benefits, 460,000 in Arizona.

Spegman said the center has been working on an efficiency system for some time so the loss, while significant, won't likely affect personnel.

"We won't be seeing layoffs," he said. 

But the uncertainty is having an impact on workers. 

"It's not just the patients but also the healers, the people giving the care who are uncertain what this means," he said.

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