June 15, 2013

Effort Underway to Reverse Medicaid Expansion

Former state lawmakers say AZ residents should vote on offering broader AHCCCS enrollment

Frank Antenori portrait Frank Antenori

A new political committee was formed to overturn the Arizona Legislature's approval last week of an expanded Medicaid program.

The committee, formed by former State Senators Frank Antenori and Ron Gould, and run by Tucsonan Christine Bauserman, is called the United Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives. Its sole purpose, at this point, is to send a measure to Arizona voters in 2014 asking whether they want to keep or reverse the expansion, Antenori said.

"The organization was formed for the purposes of referring to the ballot the Obamacare efforts of the governor, that she’s trying to veil as a simple Medicaid expansion, but it’s actually one-third of Obamacare that she’s trying to implement," he said.



Gov. Jan Brewer spent much of the year promoting an expansion of the state's Medicaid program, called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS. She lined up support from several professional organizations and business groups to encourage state lawmakers to expand the enrollment threshold for AHCCCS. Brewer is scheduled to sign the legislation today authorizing the expansion to begin next year.

Democrats supported her efforts, while many Republicans said it was fiscally unwise for the state to accept federal funding to pay for the expansion. The federal funding was designated in the controversial 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Jeff Rogers portrait Jeff Rogers

The new political committee will need to gather 86,000 signatures from registered voters in the state in the next three months. If it reaches that threshold, the measure would postpone implementation of the expanded health care services for low-income Arizonans until voters could weigh in during the November 2014 election.

Former Pima County Democratic Chairman Jeff Rogers said he thinks that signature threshold will be daunting, and doubts the measure will make it to the ballot.

In addition to the cost of the decision to allow more people to enroll in AHCCCS, Antenori said most voters do not to see the Affordable Care Act implemented.

"It is clear to me and a large number of Arizonans — 58 percent, who come from all three parties, disagree with Obamacare, don’t like Obamacare — that if we refer this to the ballot, people will defeat it and essentially provide a peoples’ veto of this effort," he said.

The 58 percent figure comes from Magellean Poll that asked voters whether they support the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

But when asked about specific components of the Act, as opposed to the entire health care overhaul, voters say they do like parts of it, Rogers said.

"It’s one of the more popular pieces of the Affordable Care Act," Rogers said of the Medicaid Expansion.

Antenori's proposed ballot measure will likely mischaracterize the expansion, Rogers said.

"I think what they’d like to say is this is a central element of Obamacare, when it’s really not, this is just small piece off to the side," Rogers said.

If the initiative makes it to the ballot, another complication looms. There are two options for the phrasing of the question, with opposite votes required for passage:
- Scenario 1: A "no" vote overturns the expanded health care. The question would be worded so a person votes to oppose the state expansion of Medicaid.
- Scenario 2: A "yes" vote overturns the expanded health care law. The question would be worded so a person votes to support the repeal of the Legislature's decision.

Antenori said he would prefer the question require a "yes" vote, because that would offer the measure more legal protection if challenged in court.

But when people don't understand a ballot measure, they vote "no" by default, Rogers said, making the first scenario the more likely for passage.

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