/ Modified mar 12, 2013 8:20 p.m.

Brewer: Medicaid Expansion 'A Lifeline'

Many beneficiaries, she says: state's poor citizens, rural hospitals, economy

Expanding Medicaid to add 240,000 or more uninsured Arizonans to the state's health-care rolls will be good for them and will boost the economy and save rural hospitals, Gov. Jan Brewer said Tuesday.

Brewer, a Republican who is bucking her own party and reversing part of her long-held opposition to the Affordable Care Act with the proposal, unveiled her Medicaid plan at a rally at the state Capitol in the form of legislation introduced in the House.

"This Medicaid restoration plan will bring $8 billion into our economy over the next four years," she said to applauding supporters, including legislators, gathered outside the House of Representatives wing at the Capitol.

"It will throw a lifeline to ... rural hospitals struggling with the cost of caring for the uninsured," she said. "And it will keep Arizona's tax dollars here at home, rather than allowing them to go to Washington to be spent on who knows what."

Two Republican legislators, Sen. Steve Pierce of Prescott and Rep. Heather Carter of Phoenix, also spoke at the rally in support of the governor's plan. In interviews, other Republicans expressed opposition, saying nothing in the bill would change their minds, while Democrats were supportive.

The GOP holds a 17-13 edge in the Senate and a 36-24 majority in the House. Thus, Brewer must keep all Democrats in favor and attract three Republican Senate votes and seven in the House. Two-thirds majorities would be needed if it is determined that the bill involves a state revenue increase.

Under the bill, Arizona would expand Medicaid coverage to people with incomes at 133 percent of the federally designated poverty level. That would be about $21,000 annually for a couple and $31,000 annually for a family of four.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the cost of such an expansion would be covered100 percent by the federal government in the first years of the plan, gradually tapering off to 90 percent, with the state picking up 10 percent.

Brewer's plan, agreed to by the state's health-care industry, would impose a fee on hospitals to cover the state's share, and the hospitals would not be allowed to pass it along to their patients.

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