Arizona Legislature Advances Medicaid Expansion, Extending Health Coverage To 50,000 Poor Americans

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) (Credit: Shutterstock)

Faced with enormous political pressure from Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ), the Arizona House passed a budget and Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in a rare 3:40 a.m. vote on Thursday. The bills now go back to the state Senate — where they are expected to pass easily later this morning — for final approval before heading to Brewer’s desk for her signature.

The vote signifies the final skirmish in a five-month long battle to expand Medicaid that pit the combative Brewer against members of her own party and conservative constituents. The window for passing the expansion and a budget would have closed on July 1st. With that deadline looming, Brewer called a surprise, special legislative session on Tuesday without getting permission from — or even informing — lawmakers in her party.

Studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) have shown that expanding Medicaid will cut Arizona’s uninsurance rate by nearly third. That means approximately 50,000 low-income Arizonans will be covered for medical benefits such as doctor’s visits, prescription drugs for chronic conditions like diabetes, and mental health care services.

Brewer made expanding Arizona’s Medicaid program under the health law a top priority for this legislative session. After becoming the third GOP governor to endorse expansion in January, she held rallies throughout the state meant to shore up support for the controversial Obamacare measure, and implored Republican moderates to vote for it. Brewer often used personal rhetoric that emphasized the consequences failing to expand Medicaid would have on Arizona’s poor. “The human cost of this tragedy can’t be calculated,” she said during a rally in March.

Thursday’s victory came only after significant tensions threatened to derail the entire process. Brewer played political hardball to push the expansion, even following through on a threat to shut down lawmaking entirely until she had a budget and the Medicaid expansion bill on her desk. She refused to compromise with Republican House Speaker Andy Tobin, who had proposed a far more conservative alternative plan that would have put a time limit on how long poor Arizona residents could qualify for the expanded program.

The tough tactics earned her scathing reviews from conservatives, with the chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee calling her a “rogue governor.” Republican lawmakers who opposed the expansion also slammed Brewer for her aggressive methods in speeches on the House floor Thursday.

Arizona will now be the 21st state to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.