Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer pushes through Obama’s Medicaid expansion


TUCSON — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer won a battle with state lawmakers this week, defying most other conservatives in her party to get a key component of President Obama’s Medicaid expansion through the Legislature.

The Arizona Senate voted Thursday to approve the measure 18 to 11. That followed approval earlier this week by the state House of Representatives.

The issue had inflamed passions and divided the Legislature for weeks. Things came to a head Tuesday when Brewer called lawmakers into the Capitol in Phoenix for a surprise special session.


Brewer — a vocal opponent of President Obama’s healthcare reform law — came out in support of Medicaid expansion for her state in January and ended up leading a contingent of moderate Democrats and Republicans who won over the objections of some conservative Republicans.

“By joining me in extending health coverage to hundreds of thousands of Arizonans, legislators of my own party have come under sharp criticism in some quarters. Some have had threats made not just against their political future, but also their personal livelihood,” Brewer said in a prepared statement.

Brewer added: “But I also know this in my heart: The great majority of Arizonans stand with us. Our citizens have — time and again — voted to extend cost-effective care to the working poor.”

Opponents of Medicaid expansion blasted Brewer and those who supported her, charging that the expansion would raise insurance premiums for Arizona residents.

“Tyranny rears its head in Arizona,” tweeted state Sen. Kelli Ward. “Those of us who voted against it were unable to stop the hijacking of the legislative process by the few. It was a sad day in AZ.”

Brewer, whose state joined 25 others in fighting Obama’s Affordable Care Act in court, later became a staunch proponent for Medicaid expansion in Arizona. She said the expansion effort would secure a stream of federal revenue — $1.6 billion — that would cover the costs of the uninsured who already show up in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms across the state.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obama’s healthcare overhaul but allowed states to opt out of Medicaid expansion.

Like other GOP governors, Brewer opted out of the health insurance exchange component of the law, leaving it to the federal government to set up the marketplace where the uninsured in the state and businesses can choose their providers.

Still, the federal funding for Medicaid expansion was too good an opportunity to pass up. The $1.6 billion in federal funding will enable Arizona to provide health insurance for an additional 240,000 residents and continue insuring 50,000 childless adults.

Arizona would become the 24th state to move toward participating in expanded Medicaid, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that tracks the issue.


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