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HEALTHY DISAGREEMENT

Tim Hogan, of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, followed through on his promise to go to the courts to try to block a proposal by Gov. Jan Brewer to deny state-subsidized health-care insurance to low-income Arizonans.

Hogan filed a petition with the Arizona Supreme Court earlier this week that claims the Brewer administration needs voter approval to cut back the Healthy Arizona proposition, which was approved by voters as Proposition 204 in 2000.

But Brewer spokesman Matt Benson says that the governor "is confident in the legality and constitutionality of her Medicare-reform proposal."

GOP lawmakers balanced the state budget by cutting more than a half-billion dollars from health-care programs, but gave Brewer discretion over how to slash the spending.

While she hasn't attempted to take health-care insurance away from Arizonans who are already covered under the Healthy Arizona proposition, Brewer has proposed denying health-care insurance to any childless adults who apply in the future, as well as parents who earn between 75 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

For a three-person household, the 2011 federal poverty level is $18,530—which means that if Brewer's plan goes through, a single mom with two kids who earns more than $13,900 would be ineligible for coverage through AHCCCS.

Hogan argues in his court filing that the state can't reduce the number of people covered because of the Voter Protection Act, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998 that prohibits lawmakers from tampering with voter-approved measures.

"Prop 204 requires that everybody at or below the federal poverty level be provided with health coverage, and the Voter Protection Act requires that if (lawmakers) want to change that, they need to ask voters again," Hogan told The Skinny.

Hogan is skeptical of arguments from the Brewer administration and Republican lawmakers, who say that the coverage can be cut back because the Healthy Arizona law states that "available funds" will be used to fund the program, but there aren't any funds available in Arizona's tight budget.

"The state's budget is $8.3 billion," he says. "This population has first claim on the budget. (Lawmakers) have to fund what's legally obligated first."

The Arizona Supreme Court said it would review Hogan's petition in September. In the meantime, Hogan is reviewing other legal options, such as seeking an injunction in Superior Court.


CITY SMACK TALK

Ward 2 City Councilman Paul Cunningham filed his petitions last week to run for the Ward 2 City Council seat he was appointed to after the resignation of Rodney Glassman last year.

Cunningham's filing brought a little smack talk from Pima County Democratic Party chairman Jeff Rogers, who noted in a press release that none of the GOP candidates for city offices had filed petitions yet.

"We may be looking at an enthusiasm gap," crowed Rogers. "The Republicans haven't yet managed to file a single set of signatures. They've been struggling to find candidates, and the ones they have recruited are cut from the same cloth as Phoenix Republican boss Russell Pearce, who is fighting an all-out war against Tucson. Tucson voters are too smart to elect a bunch of Frank Antenori clones to the City Council. They want representation that's fighting for their city, not against it."

Sounds to us like the Democrats will try to fire up their base by tying GOP candidates to Antenori (who represents Tucson's eastside, along with Green Valley and Sierra Vista, in the Arizona Senate) and the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Given that Republican Tyler Vogt, who is seeking to unseat Democratic City Councilwoman Shirley Scott in Ward 4, is the brother of Antenori's district-mate, state Rep. Ted Vogt, it's probably not a bad strategy—especially given that Republican council member Steve Kozachik has been feuding with Antenori and complaining that the Legislature has been meddling too much in Tucson's affairs.

Republicans, meanwhile, are signaling that they're trying to make the election about city spending and the slow pace of downtown redevelopment.

Pima County Republican Party spokesman Sam Stone assures The Skinny that mayoral candidate Shaun McClusky has passed the minimum number of signatures needed to qualify and will deliver them on May 31. Stone says that Vogt and Ward 2 candidate Jennifer Rawson will also have more than enough sigs.

"Considering that the Democratic Party ... mayoral candidate is an attorney (Jonathan Rothschild), we're not going to give them any more time than necessary to file a lawsuit," Stone says.


NO MORE HELMET FOR GIFFORDS

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords reached another milestone in her recovery last week when doctors at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center replaced a section of her skull that was destroyed when she was shot earlier this year.

Dr. Dong Kim, director of Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann Hospital, said that the 3 1/2-hour surgery went well, and a post-surgery CT scan showed that "everything looks great."

Although doctors saved the portion of Giffords' skull that was removed when she underwent surgery after being shot on Jan. 8, they decided to use a ceramic substitute instead. The implant was built to fit a model of Giffords' skull that was created using CT scans.

"It's porous," said Kim. "Over the next several months, her own bone cells will migrate into this porous material and will lay down calcium. So if in two years, somebody gets a CT scan, you can see the newborn bone having formed."

Doctors also inserted a permanent shunt underneath Giffords' skin that runs from the left side of her head down into her abdomen to drain excess brain fluid. Kim said the shunt would not be visible.

The surgery means that Giffords will no longer have to wear a helmet to protect her head while undergoing physical therapy.

Pia Carusone, Giffords' chief of staff, said Giffords would be happy to be rid of the helmet.

"She hates the helmet," Carusone said. "She tells us that every day. ... Someone wrote 5-17-11 on the helmet as the final date. That's it. So it was an exciting week for her. She's been looking forward to this for a while."

The doctors declined to speculate on when Giffords might be discharged from the hospital or when she'd be able to return to work.

"For a patient to come as far as she has in that period of time after the kind of injury that she's had is almost miraculous," Kim said. "The rate of recovery, though, is variable over time, and we can't predict exactly how much more progress she's going to make going forward. So it would be very hard to say when she can return to work, but she has done very well so far, and we hope that progress continues."

Dr. Gerard Francisco, who has been overseeing Giffords' physical-therapy program, added that Giffords has continued to improve both physically and mentally.

"We're having fun conversations," Francisco said. "She's cracked me up several times. She's told some jokes. We've had good, social conversations as well."

Carusone said that Giffords has been keeping track of current events.

"We update her on what's going on," Carusone said. "You know, Trump's not running for president or whatever the news is."

Carusone added, Giffords has "complained about being in the hospital. She misses Tucson."

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