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Advocates For Medicaid Expansion Hopeful of Lawmaker Support

PHOTO: Former AHCCCS Director Len Kirschner says Governor Jan Brewer deserves a lot of credit for proposing Arizona expand its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. CREDIT: East Valley Tribune
PHOTO: Former AHCCCS Director Len Kirschner says Governor Jan Brewer deserves a lot of credit for proposing Arizona expand its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. CREDIT: East Valley Tribune
January 17, 2013

PHOENIX, Ariz. - The ball is now in the Legislature's court, following Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal to expand Arizona's Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. Expansion supporters hope state lawmakers will endorse the idea.

Len Kirschner is a former director of Arizona's Medicaid program, known as AHCCCS (Access). He gives Brewer kudos for recognizing the benefits Medicaid expansion will bring.

"We will move from being somewhere about 47th or 48th in the percentage of our population uninsured to somewhere in the middle of the pack. It would add several hundred thousand people who are currently uninsured - but who still get ill, injured and pregnant - to the rolls of those who have coverage."

Under Brewer's proposal, hospitals would pay $154 million in "bed taxes" over the next three years to cover the state's share of Medicaid expansion, generating nearly $8 billion in new federal funding.

Steve Jennings lobbies the state legislature for AARP Arizona. He thinks the prospects for approval by lawmakers are "pretty good," because it does not involve money from the state's general fund.

"You can add 300,000 people - get them insurance coverage - without impacting the state budget in a negative way, so I'd say it's got a good chance, but people of course want to take a close look at it."

Kirschner says he has been fighting the legislature's reluctance to embrace Medicaid for some 30 years, ever since Arizona became the last state in the union to adopt a Medicaid program - although under a different name.

"The legislature did not want to call it Medicaid, so they came up with this rather interesting name, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. Many people who voted for the bill in 1981 still, years later, didn't know we had Medicaid in the state."

Kirschner says it will not be quick or easy getting state lawmakers to go along with the governor's planned Medicaid expansion, especially in light of a court decision mandating more education spending.

"Those who were thinking this was going to be a short legislative session are now starting to say this may be a long one. Part of it is going to clearly be the budget, and the biggest chunks are going to be education and health care."

A court ruling issued on Tuesday says the state must fully account for inflation in public school funding.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ