Arizona’s Brewer Prevails in Bid Over Expanding Medicaid

Republican Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona scored a hard-fought victory against her party’s legislative leaders after winning passage of her plan to expand Medicaid to cover about 300,000 more residents.

The final 18-11 vote today in the state Senate capped five months of maneuvering after Brewer, 68, shocked the political establishment by calling for the expansion of the joint federal-state program for the poor -- a foundation of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law that she had opposed. Her measure cleared the state Legislature with bipartisan support, leading Brewer to praise Republicans who sided with her.

“Legislators of my own party have come under sharp criticism in some quarters,” Brewer said in a statement. “Some have had threats made not just against their political future, but also their personal livelihood.”

“But I also know this in my heart: The great majority of Arizonans stand with us,” she said.

An outspoken foe of Obama on immigration policy and other issues, Brewer joined fellow Republican governors -- including New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Florida’s Rick Scott and Ohio’s John Kasich -- to back extending Medicaid to cover residents with annual incomes of as much as $32,500 for a family of four. She said her state couldn’t afford not to take the step.

Cost Sharing

Under Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act, the U.S. government covers the cost of the Medicaid expansion until 2022, when the subsidy drops to 90 percent. Eight states including Arizona were still considering whether to broaden their Medicaid systems as of May 30, while 20 others weren’t taking the step, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health-research organization based in Menlo Park, California.

Arizona’s Republican leaders met Brewer’s January Medicaid expansion call with hostility. The party chief in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, compared Brewer to Judas. Protesters brandishing signs blasting “Obrewercare” heckled her at rallies. Last month, Brewer vetoed five bills sent to her by the Senate, saying she would reject all legislation until lawmakers dealt with the expansion, her top priority.

The Medicaid votes came in a special legislative session called by Brewer with less than three weeks until the start of Arizona’s fiscal 2014. The governor ordered the budget session on June 11 because she was tired of “game playing” by opponents, spokesman Matthew Benson said.

Her adversaries in the House of Representatives protested by initially refusing to take their seats, sitting instead in the spectators’ gallery.

Casting Shame

“She wanted Obamacare so badly that she could not wait to impose high taxes and a huge government program on the people of Arizona,” said Representative Adam Kwasman, a Republican from Oro Valley. “Shame on the members of this House and shame on the governor.”

Republican opponents proposed dozens of hostile amendments in the House. They spoke against Brewer and her supporters from their party during an almost 12-hour floor session on 10 budget bills, including the one that expands Medicaid. The lower chamber passed the bills earlier today, approving the health measure by a 33-27 vote.

The governor’s plan will bring about $1.6 billion in federal money to the state each year, according to her office. The proposal calls for a tax on hospitals to cover costs tied to the change.

Key Measure

“We are talking about an issue that means the difference between having health care and not having health care for hundreds of thousands of Arizonans,” Benson said. Medicaid covers about 1.3 million people in the state now.

The move will let the state restore Medicaid to childless adults living in poverty, who were covered until 2011, when lawmakers froze enrollment. It also will ease a rising burden on residents whose insurance rates help pay for the care hospitals give to the uninsured, Brewer has said.

“This amounts to a hidden tax estimated at nearly $2,000 per family, per year,” the governor said in January.

Passage of the measure “will help prevent our rural and safety-net hospitals from closing their doors,” Brewer said today. “And it will boost our economy by creating more than 20,000 jobs at a time when Arizona needs them most.”

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