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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer opts to expand Medicaid

Despite opposing President Obama's healthcare reform law, the governor says she could not pass up on $1.6 billion in federal funding for health insurance.

January 15, 2013|By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times
  • In her State of the State address Monday, Gov. Jan Brewer said that if she didn’t accept the Medicaid money for Arizona, other states would claim those federal funds.
In her State of the State address Monday, Gov. Jan Brewer said that if she… (Ross Franklin, Associated…)

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a vocal opponent of President Obama's healthcare reform law, surprised her state this week by announcing that she would embrace a key component of the law.

Now she faces having to sell the idea to a Republican-controlled Arizona Senate and House, which will probably give some sort of pushback. Her spokesman, however, predicted that lawmakers would agree to expand Medicaid coverage because of the federal funds provided for the effort.

"Gov. Brewer believes that when lawmakers take a step back and take a look at these numbers they're going to come to the same conclusion … to get this passed," spokesman Matthew Benson said Tuesday.

A skeptic of Obama's Affordable Care Act, Brewer announced her decision in her State of the State address Monday. If she didn't accept the Medicaid money for Arizona, she said, other states would claim those federal funds.

"With this move, we will secure a federal revenue stream to cover the costs of the uninsured who already show up in our doctor's offices and emergency rooms," Brewer said, explaining her decision.

Obama's healthcare law allows states to decide whether they will expand Medicaid, the state-federal program for the elderly, disabled and low-income families with children.

Brewer is the latest of few fellow Republicans who have opted to do so, joining New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Other Republican governors have chosen not to participate in the 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.

However, the federal funding for Medicaid expansion was too good of 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, according to a state government memo explaining the expansion plan.

Agreeing to expand Medicaid means protecting rural hospitals from growing costs in caring for the uninsured, infusing $2 billion into the state's economy while saving and creating thousands of jobs and providing healthcare to hundreds of thousands for low-income Arizonans, Brewer said.

The plan expands Medicaid to include anyone who earns up to 133% of the federal poverty level.

Brewer, who joined 25 other states in fighting the Affordable Care Act in court, said it's now the law and "not going anywhere — at least not for the time being."

Arizonans have to deal with reality, she said in her address, instead of wishing it away or wagging their finger at the federal government.

"Trust me — I tried that once," she said.

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