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Updated Jun 10, 2013 - 6:19 pm

Panel rejects Medicaid, full House must now revive

PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer’s plan to embrace a key part of President Barack
Obama’s health care overhaul law will have to be resuscitated by the full
Arizona House after a panel dominated by conservative Republicans rejected it
outright on Monday.

Between Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans there appear to be the
votes to do just that, and the party-line 7-4 Appropriations Committee vote at
the end of nearly two hours of testimony was expected.

The bill rejected by the committee would have authorized Brewer to expand
Medicaid to people making between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal
poverty line under terms of the Affordable Care Act. Brewer wants to use a
hospital assessment to pay for the state’s share.

A similar coalition of Democrats and Republicans passed the bill out of the
Senate last month.

“Today’s action was certainly not unexpected,” Brewer spokesman Matthew
Benson said. “This is not the end of the road for Medicaid restoration. The
fight goes on from here.”

Brewer uses the term “restoration” because the plan would restore more than
100,000 childless adults who have dropped off the rolls after a freeze triggered
by state budget cuts. Under terms of the Affordable Care Act, those adults and
many more uninsured people would be added to Medicaid.

The budget bill on health care rejected Monday was one of 10 that will fund the
state’s programs for the budget year that begins July 1. The other budget bills
will be taken up later in the week, Kavanagh said.

“We believe Medicaid expansion is toxic, and it’s poisoning relations between
legislators and the governor’s office and between the Republican Party,” said
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the committee chariman. “We wanted to
clear Medicaid first and then in a more rational way deal with the rest of the
budget.”

The committee vote came after a two-hour session that was a repeat of the
debate that’s been raging since Brewer announced her plan to expand Medicaid in
a January speech to the Legislature.

The director of the state Medicaid program, Tom Betlach, said expanding
Medicaid is the only option that would save the state money while covering
childless adults now on the plan. Proponents spoke about hospitals drowning in
uncompensated care and patients unable to get care.

Opponents spoke of the costs to the federal government, a rising federal
deficit and the costs of an expanding federal government. Kavanagh added the
punctuation mark with comments before he cast his vote.

“This problem would be bad enough if it was tax and spend,” Kavanagh said.
“This is not tax and spend. It is borrow and spend.”

But Democratic House minority leader Chad Campbell said that argument was
false, saying bringing in nearly $1.6 billion a year in new federal health care
spending would help hospitals, add jobs and serve the people government needs to
support.

“If we are not pulling this money down, we are throwing away our money that is
going to (Washington). There’s no rational reason to reject Medicaid expansion
_none,” Campbell said. “We take over $12 billion in federal money every year
in this state, and I’m not hearing talk about rejecting any of that money. I’m
only hearing about rejecting money around `Obamacare.”’

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