Gov. Jan Brewer told legislative leaders Thursday that the federal government will not continue funding part of Arizona's Medicaid program if the state extends an enrollment freeze.
For that reason, Brewer said in a letter to the leaders of the two legislative chambers, "it is time for us to complete the people's work," by adopting her proposal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The governor's letter upped the ante in what has been a tense, three-month standoff with her fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
It came on the same day that legislative opponents to the Medicaid expansion held a news conference and rally at the state Capitol. That event, led by Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert and Rep. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, was meant to showcase the opposition's argument that Medicaid expansion is too costly both for the state and federal governments.
Biggs was quoted by the Arizona Capitol Times Wednesday as saying he will do “everything I can” to prevent the proposal from reaching the Senate floor for a vote.
“I have said that I’m unalterably opposed to it," the Capitol Times quoted Biggs as saying. "I believe it would do irreparable harm to the state. I will do everything I can to prevent it from going to the floor.”
Brewer announced her proposal to expand Medicaid under the state's Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, known as AHCCCS, in her State of the State speech in January and has been pushing hard for it ever since. Republican resistance in the Legislature has slowed the work in the session, including formation of the 2013-14 state budget.
"Today, we received important guidance from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that clarifies the state's options with respect to Medicaid coverage," Brewer said in the opening sentence of her letter to Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden.
The guidance means Arizona would lose federal health insurance coverage for all eligible childless adults if it continues a freeze on new enrollees past the end of 2013. That would drop coverage for 63,000 people.
Brewer said that leaves the state with "only one viable alternative: the restoration plan before you." That means her Medicaid expansion proposal, which she has said will not cost state taxpayers any money and will bring billions in federal dollars to the state over the next several years.
The other options, she said, include dropping those childless adults from coverage, spending $850 million in state money over three years to cover them, or spending $1.3 billion in state money over three years to restore coverage for all eligible childless adults.
Medicaid expansion would restore health insurance coverage to 240,000 childless adults and add another 57,000 people to health insurance rolls, the governor said.
State funding for Medicaid was among the significant budget cuts that the Legislature made in 2010 and 2011 as Arizona faced a budget deficit in the wake of the recession.