PHOENIX - Comparing her directly to Judas, the head of the Maricopa County Republican Committee blasted Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday for her bid to expand the state's Medicaid program.
The comments by A.J. LaFaro came during the first legislative consideration of the governor's proposal to tap into federal funds to add about 300,000 people to the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. The multi-hour hearing appeared to change the minds of no one on the House Appropriations Committee, quickly turning into a debate on the role of government. No vote was taken.
"I hate to say this, Jesus had Judas, Republicans have Gov. Brewer," LaFaro said, pronouncing himself "shocked" at her proposal.
Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argued that the state would be foolish to turn away $1.6 billion from the federal Affordable Care Act. The plan would not require new state dollars, with Arizona's share being put up by a tax on hospitals.
He argued the more people who have health insurance, the fewer people who show in hospital emergency rooms when they get really sick but are unable to pay. He said hospitals pass that cost along in higher charges which then increase health insurance premiums for everyone else.
That premise was derided by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. He pointed out hospitals have complained for years they lose money every time they treat an AHCCCS patient because the program, jointly funded with federal and state dollars, does not pay enough to cover costs.
He said if hospitals are unhappy now with nearly 1.3 million people in the program, they're really going to be upset with an expanded AHCCCS system.
"There is going to be a tsunami of people seeking new medical treatment," he said.
Much of the opposition was on philosophy versus cash.
A parade of speakers talked about the nation's $17 trillion deficit, saying it's only going to get worse because of the federal Affordable Care Act, the program that would provide the extra funds to expand AHCCCS, which now provides care for most people below the federal poverty level of $19,530 a year for a family of three.
The federal law, which kicks in next year, raises eligibility to 138 percent of the poverty level.
"The reason why we oppose this expansion, quite frankly, is it's going to bankrupt the country," said Kavanagh, who chairs the committee. "We're going to be a third-tier country."
"It's your children's tax money," added Rep. Adam Kwansman, R-Oro Valley.
But it was LaFaro who made the debate personal with his Judas reference.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said his boss would not get into a war of words with LaFaro.
"There's nothing I could say that could diminish his credibility any more than he already has," Benson said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue could not even agree on some basic facts.
For example, Kavanagh said after Massachusetts implemented a similar plan the number of people using hospital emergency rooms increased, which he said makes sense because, "If you give people insurance, they will use it."
But House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, cited a more recent article claiming that ER visits there actually went down.
Wednesday's hearing did not result in a vote that would advance the measure to the full House. And even if can eventually get through the committee, both House and Senate Republican leaders have said they will not allow a vote without significant changes.