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Thu, Aug. 22

House committee rejects Medicaid expansion

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.

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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