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Updated Mar 12, 2013 - 5:56 pm

Gov. Jan Brewer rolls out Medicaid expansion bill

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announces her new proposed Medicaid expansion. (KTAR Photo/Bob McClay)

PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer appealed to fellow Republicans Tuesday to back her proposed expansion of Arizona's Medicaid program by citing the party's opposition to abortion and painting the issue as another way to protect the sanctity of life.

Brewer, who fought President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul law but now is embracing one of its key provisions, said expanding the insurance to about 300,000 low-income Arizonans will save lives and prevent 50,000 childless adults now enrolled in the state program from losing coverage at the end of the year.

Her comments came as she released draft language of a bill authorizing the expansion that will go to the Republican-controlled Legislature, with a core group strongly opposed to the expansion.

``With this legislation, we're talking about people's lives,'' Brewer said at a press event packed with supporters, including a handful of Republican lawmakers. ``I'm a pro-life governor- I refuse to stand by and allow this many people to needlessly suffer, especially when we have a solution.''

Surrounded by supporters on the house lawn at the state capitol, Brewer said that her plan will bring $8 billion dollars into Arizona's economy over the next four years.

"It will throw a lifeline to a safety net in rural hospitals struggling with the cost of caring for the uninsured," she said.

Brewer also said that her program will not be a burden on Arizona taxpayers.

"It will keep Arizona's tax dollars here at home, rather than allowing them to go to Washington to be spent on who knows what."

When asked by reporters whether she thinks her plan has enough support to make it through the legislature, Brewer admitted that she "hasn't counted the votes."

Brewer surprised many observers nearly two months ago by announcing she backed an expansion after years of staunch opposition to Obama's health care overhaul. Arizona had joined other states in an unsuccessful effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Brewer is relying on a new hospital bed tax to pay the state's share of the cost of expanding Medicaid to Arizonans who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The draft language gives the director of the state's Medicaid program, known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, the ability to levy what Brewer calls an assessment.

It also carves out exceptions to the tax for a small number of hospitals that don't treat a significant number of patients without insurance and object to the assessment. Those facilities include the Mayo Clinic and Scottsdale Healthcare.

Brewer faces strong opposition from many Republicans who don't support the Affordable Care Act. Senate President Andy Biggs said there's virtually no chance he'll vote for it, and House Speaker Andy Tobin has said he believes the legislation should include lawsuit reform, audits of the state plan, and hospitals paying any new assessment.

He and other legislators believe the assessment would require a two-thirds majority needed for new taxes.

The language released Tuesday hasn't been officially introduced in the Legislature and contains none of those provisions.

``I don't believe we have the votes to get that out, I've made that clear from the beginning,'' Tobin said. He predicted a number of changes would have to be made.

Among the Republican lawmakers joining the governor at the press event were Sen. Steve Pierce, Rep. Heather Carter, chair of the House health committee, and Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, who predicted passage.

Brewer has staged a two-month effort to sell the proposal, winning over many in the business community and a number of powerful health care officials.

She has touted the financial benefits of getting more people insured. And she has rallied doctors at the Capitol.

Brewer said the state can expect $1.6 billion in new federal funding a year by assessing hospitals about $250 million a year to pay for the state's share of an expanded Medicaid program.

``This will get through. This is going to happen,'' said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The draft legislation Brewer released includes a promised ``circuit breaker'' to pull Arizona out of the program if federal funding falls below 80 percent.

Under the federal legislation, Washington would pay the entire cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent of the cost after that.

KTAR's Bob McClay contributed to this report.

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