Poll seeks to get GOP lawmakers off fence

Maricopa voters are asked about Medicaid expansion
2013-04-12T00:00:00Z Poll seeks to get GOP lawmakers off fenceHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
April 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Hoping to undermine the governor, foes of Medicaid expansion are putting the political heat on Republicans who might be inclined to support her plan.

The latest fuel firing the debate is a survey by Magellan Strategies asking GOP voters in six Republican-dominated Maricopa County legislative districts how they feel about the proposal. Overall, the plan by Gov. Jan Brewer is backed by 30 percent of respondents in those districts versus 51 percent against.

But the real key is that the firm, which polls for Republican interests, also questioned the 718 people about how their own lawmakers' decision on the issue might play out at the polls in 2014. In all six districts, respondents said by wide margins they would be less likely to re-elect anyone who supported the expansion and the hospital tax that would finance it.

Brewer, in turn, is trying to build support.

On Thursday, in her third press conference at the Capitol on the issue, the governor was backed by mental health advocates and patients who spoke of the need to adopt her plan.

Brewer argues without the expansion, 60,000 people now in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, will lose their coverage at the end of the year because Medicaid is slated to stop providing funds for certain groups - notably childless adults - unless the state opts in to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

And 2,000 of those, Brewer said, are seriously mentally ill.

None of that swayed two of the biggest foes.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said lawmakers gave Brewer everything she asked for this fiscal year in mental-health funding.

"So they're not losing anything," he said.

Kavanagh acknowledged that does not cover physical health problems that often accompany mental illness. But he said that isn't necessary.

"You don't have to provide coverage so the seriously mentally ill can get a foot fungus infection treated to properly maintain their mental-health status," Kavanagh said.

And Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, who has been a perennial attacker of the entire AHCCCS program, said the state could provide more and better care by auditing for waste and fraud.

While their votes are already cast in stone, that isn't the case with more politically moderate Republicans who support Brewer.

Even if every Democrat supports the proposal, that still leaves the governor seven votes short in the House and four votes shy in the Senate - a number that's probably doable.

But the Senate president and House speaker have suggested they won't even allow a vote without the support of at least half the Republicans in their caucuses. And that presumes that the $250 million assessment on hospitals to pay for the plan is not considered a "tax," which would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

That's where the polling of Republicans in the six legislative districts comes in. Together that amounts to six senators and 12 representatives, many of whom have not yet taken a public stance.

Magellan Strategies would not disclose who paid for the automated telephone survey conducted in the last week of March. But copies were being given out by Tom Jenney, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a small-government and anti-tax group working to kill Brewer's plan.

Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson called the survey "next to worthless when it comes to gauging support" for Medicaid expansion.

Furthermore, he said, one poll conducted by Brewer supporters showed a majority of likely voters support Brewer's plan. And another done on behalf of the governor by political consulting firm Highground showed most independents and half of Republican women support Brewer's plan - although it did show strong opposition among older Republican men.

After Thursday's event, Brewer said she remains confident she can line up the Republican votes.

"We have seen movement," she said, saying lawmakers are "getting educated and understanding the issue."

Arizona provides care to most individuals below the federal poverty level, about $19,000 a year for a family of three. If the state opts in to the Affordable Care Act, that would effectively increase to 138 percent.

The state's share of that expansion would be paid for with a $240 million assessment on hospitals, and would bring in $1.6 billion in new federal aid, adding about 300,000 to the 1.3 million now on the AHCCCS rolls, reducing the ranks of those who now receive uncompensated care at hospitals, which results higher costs for paying hospital patients.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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