Phoenix • Flanked by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and members of various organizations that included AARP Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer Monday signed legislation that will restore and expand Medicaid coverage.
“Over the last five months, more than 400 community groups have rallied behind our effort,” Brewer said. “This Medicaid Restoration Plan does not solve all of Arizona’s health care challenges. But it will extend cost-effective care to Arizona’s working poor, using the very tax dollars our citizens already pay to the federal government.”
AARP Arizona was among a coalition of community groups that has worked to rally lawmakers behind the governor’s plan since the legislative session opened in January.
“AARP commends the governor’s leadership and those of the bipartisan coalition of legislators that voted to pass this bill,” said AARP Arizona Advocacy Director Steve Jennings. “Today’s event means that more than 300,000 vulnerable Arizonans will now have access to health care through our state’s AHCCCS program,”
AARP has nearly 800,000 members that are 50 years of age and older in the state, many of whom have lost their jobs or are struggling in jobs without health insurance, officials said.
“With the expansion of Arizona’s AHCCCS program, these vulnerable Arizonans will now be able to get the care they need, it will help keep our rural hospitals open and also avoid overcrowding in our hospital emergency rooms,” Jennings added.
The governor noted the measure was approved by an unusual coalition of 14 Republicans working with all of the Democrats in the Legislature. It was enacted despite opposition from the majority of Republicans who control both chambers, as well as the House speaker and the Senate president.
And it came even as foes of expansion have threatened to do everything possible to ensure that this will be the last term in office for the Republicans who supported it. Brewer, in signing the measure, took note of their actions.
“They displayed something we don’t see a lot of in politics today,” she said. “And that is courage.”
And the governor personally thanked them.
“You have my gratitude and respect,” said Brewer, who announced her support of Medicaid expansion five months earlier in her State of the State speech. “You put people before politics and you stayed strong in the face of personal attacks.”
Most immediately, the new law is designed to swell the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, from about 1.3 million to more than 1.6 million.
The federal government, using provisions from the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, will kick in about $1.6 billion a year, with Arizona’s $240 million share coming from what amounts to a tax on hospitals. Despite that, the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association signed on in support, with the premise that more people with health coverage means fewer people unable to pay their bills.
But the real lasting legacy could be that some of the more politically moderate legislators in the Republican Party ignored their own far more conservative leadership and instead found common ground with the Democrats.
Despite the upbeat tone around the governor, Monday’s signing is just another act in a political drama that continues to play out.
Former state Sen. Frank Antenori said he may be ready as early as today to file a referendum to put the question of Medicaid expansion to voters.
Antenori and former Sen. Ron Gould need 86,405 valid signatures on petitions by Sept. 12 to hold up enactment of the law until it goes to the ballot. And the next scheduled general election is not until November 2014, 11 months after Brewer’s expansion plan is scheduled to kick in.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said the governor’s legal advisers do not believe the measure is subject to referendum because it is part of the budget. But Antenori said the lawyers with whom he has consulted agree that the policy of expanding eligibility for free care, from 100 percent of the federal poverty level to an adjusted figure of 138 percent, is subject to voter review.