State vote sought on Medicaid expansion

GOP House leader proposes it, calling Brewer's plan dead
2013-05-15T00:00:00Z State vote sought on Medicaid expansionHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX - House Speaker Andy Tobin unveiled his own new plan Tuesday to expand Medicaid, one that would give Arizona voters the final say, after calling the governor's proposal unacceptable and politically dead at the Legislature.

The measure would allow Arizona to add about 300,000 to the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System on top of the 1.3 million already enrolled, which is identical to what Gov. Jan Brewer wants to do.

But Tobin's plan puts far more conditions on the tax on hospitals that would be used to pay the state's share of the cost - primarily giving authority over the size of the levy to a legislative committee and not, as Brewer wants, her appointed head of the state's Medicaid program.

Tobin's alternative also includes provisions designed to cut health-care costs and add money for graduate medical education, which Brewer's version lacks. And there is funding for medical research for everything from heart disease to preventive care.

All that, he said, deals with the problems of high health-care costs rather than the symptoms.

"What drives down the cost is better health care," he said.

More controversial is a separate measure designed to restrict, if not bar, any of the funds from going to organizations that also provide abortion "because we're a pro-life Legislature."

The governor objected Tuesday to making the entire package subject to voter approval.

"I believe we are all elected by the voters of Arizona to make these tough decisions," the governor said. And she contended that lawmakers should simply ratify what she has proposed.

However, the conflict is not unlike 2010, when Brewer could not get lawmakers themselves to adopt a temporary one-cent tax hike so she rounded up the votes to have the issue sent to the ballot.

Brewer said she believes the public supports her Medicaid plan as much as they did her sales tax hike. But the governor conceded she would rather not take it directly to voters.

"It's really complex," she said. "I think it's something that's really difficult to get out there to explain."

And Brewer said she is not anxious to campaign in the middle of the summer, as the earliest this could get on the ballot would be August.

While Brewer is continuing her lobbying and series of rallies to pressure lawmakers to adopt her plan, Tobin said there just aren't the necessary votes, at least in the House, for what Brewer wants.

He said the governor should support any plan that gets the expansion she wants, even if it's not her way.

The fight surrounds the federal Affordable Care Act designed to provide free care for anyone up to an adjusted figure of 138 percent of the federal poverty level. AHCCCS already covers most families and some single adults up to 100 percent of the poverty level, about $19,530 a year for a family of three.

While the federal government will pick up most of the additional cost, expansion is not free.

Brewer proposes a $250 million levy on hospitals to cover the state's share. She said that will bring in about $1.6 billion in federal funds.

Most hospitals have signed on in support, figuring that the expanded eligibility will reduce the number of patients showing up without insurance and unable to pay their bills. And Brewer said her plan will bar hospitals from shifting the cost of the levy to others.

Tobin, however, is skeptical and wants independent oversight to make sure hospitals do not shift costs and that they use the extra federal funds to reduce uncompensated care and not to bolster corporate profits.

While opposing a public vote, Brewer did say there's a "good chance" she might adopt some of the details of what Tobin wants, including his proposal to end expanded coverage on Dec. 31, 2016, unless lawmakers decide to continue it.

Brewer said, though, said she's not interested in language in Tobin's plan aimed at Planned Parenthood.

The organization already gets Medicaid funds for family planning. And state and federal laws already bar public funds for elective abortions.

But critics contend any cash that goes to Planned Parenthood effectively underwrites its fixed costs for other services, including abortion.

A prior attempt by lawmakers to bar Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood was declared illegal by a federal judge. Tobin's plan would try some different language in hopes of getting it past the courts.

Brewer, however, said she does not want another court fight. And she called the proposal "unnecessary."

Tobin said a public vote is necessary because of the hospital assessment.

The Arizona Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for any tax increase. Brewer contends she doesn't need that many votes because her plan simply gives the AHCCCS director authority to levy a fee, which is not subject to the two-thirds rule.

Tobin called her interpretation legally questionable.

Beyond that, Tobin said this deserves public scrutiny. "This is a huge issue," he said, calling it "potentially the largest expansion of any government department or program in decades, if not our history."

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

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...