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Updated Jan 16, 2013 - 5:48 pm

Brewer wastes no time pushing Medicaid expansion

PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is wasting no time rallying support for her effort to expand the state Medicaid plan, using a press conference at Maricopa Medical Center Wednesday to show she has backing from hospitals and the business community.

Hospitals are being asked to agree to a new bed tax to help pay the state's cost of adding about 300,000 low-income people to the plan, which Brewer said would bring billions of dollars in spending to the state health care industry.

The vast majority of the costs would initially be paid by the federal government under terms of President Barack Obama's health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, with slightly smaller amounts to come in later years.

Brewer said expanding coverage under the state's version of Medicaid, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, would cut uncompensated care that is currently absorbed by hospitals but ultimately passed on to consumers.

She estimates that costs an average Arizona family $2,000 a year in higher insurance premiums.

Leaders of the state's Chamber of Commerce community argued that cutting the number of uninsured in the state will lower insurance costs for businesses.

Brewer made the surprise announcement that she would expand the state's plan in a speech to the Legislature on Monday.

The governor has ardently opposed the federal health care plan and remains uneasy about the federal government playing such a large role in health care, but said the part that expands coverage to citizens who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line is the right thing to do.

``The decision faced by Arizona leaders today is not one of whether the Affordable Care Act should exist. It's the law of the land.'' she said. ``Our decision is whether we will take the action that most benefits Arizona's families and businesses.''

States have an option of not signing onto the Medicaid expansions that are part of the Affordable Care Act.

Brewer also will have to convince the Legislature, whose Republican leaders are leery of the proposal.

``We're not going to just push it out the door,'' House Speaker Andy Tobin said Wednesday. ``She's the executive and she has her plan. But a lot of members have great concern about how this actually rolls out and how it affects the budget.''

Brewer plans to pay the state's share- $154 million in the 2015 budget yearby assessing hospitals using the bed tax. The idea is that hospitals that now have millions in uncompensated care will pay the tax and receive much more than that in insurance payments by treating the newly insured. Federal payments that year are estimated at $1.6 billion.

Some hospitals that serve fewer indigent patients have objected to such taxes in the past, but Brewer said she had an unspecified plan to get their backing.

``We understand that there are some hospitals that are not serving that population,'' Brewer said. ``That doesn't mean that they're not on board with what we are doing in regard to the Affordable Care Act.''

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