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AZ House passes Medicaid expansion in Brewer win

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 13, 2013 at 4:50 am •  Published: June 13, 2013

Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko of Peoria said the special session was unnecessary.

"I feel like I have been punched in the gut," she said.

Republicans control the state Legislature and all statewide elected offices in Arizona, but the Medicaid fight has highlighted internal fractures between those who want smaller government and others who, like Brewer, say broader health care access is good for the state.

Senate President Andy Biggs, who fought the Medicaid expansion throughout the regular session that began in January, implored Democrats and moderate Republicans to allow for debate after he was sidelined by Brewer's supporters.

"Some don't want to have discussion and think I am trying to embarrass them. I am not trying to embarrass them. This is a massive bill," he said on the floor.

As Republicans grew increasingly irate, Brewer's office released a statement striving to distance her from the federal health care law that allows for the Medicaid expansion.

"Arizona's Medicaid program, known as AHCCCS, has existed for three decades . going back to President Obama's college days," wrote spokesman Matthew Benson in an email. "AHCCCS is not the Affordable Care Act. It is not Obamacare. It is the nation's gold standard in terms of cost-effective Medicaid programs."

The Medicaid plan would cover people making between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level and restore coverage to more than 100,000 childless adults who lost Medicaid coverage because of a state budget crunch. About 1.3 million Arizonans already are covered by the state's plan.

The special session allowed lawmakers aligned with Brewer to suspend normal rules that require committee hearings on bills and advance the budget with limited debate. They began voting on their budget bills and more than 50 hostile amendments from conservatives Wednesday afternoon.

Brewer's supporters adopted the $8.8 billion budget approved by the Senate last month but shifted some money around. It will not include a big "economic development" tax-cut plan House Speaker Andy Tobin wanted to add.

"We have a huge economic incentive in this budget — it's called Medicaid," democratic Minority Leader Chad Campbell said. "That's a $2 billion economic incentive program right there."

Biggs and Tobin have said the federal government is likely to go back on its promise to fund the Medicaid expansion and point to the huge federal debt.

After adjournment Tuesday, Biggs and Tobin released an angry statement rife with insults toward Brewer: "We are frustrated and bewildered by her overt hostility and disregard for budgetary process which was already well under way."

Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, said the moderates had no choice but to act because state agencies need funding in place before the budget year starts July 1.