PHOENIX - Republican lawmakers and advocates for limited government took to the House lawn Thursday to protest Gov. Jan Brewer's support for expanding Medicaid coverage.
After opposing the Affordable Care Act and deciding against having a state-run health insurance exchange, Brewer announced earlier this year she wants Arizona to accept billions in federal funds over three years. That money would extend Medicaid coverage to 250,000 more low-income residents and restore coverage for nearly 50,000 who lost benefits due to budget cuts.
The issue has held up consideration of a state budget, with Republicans in both houses saying that while expanding Medicaid wouldn't cost the state much during the first three years it would cost more later.
"In essence, this is an expansion of big government," said Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who planned the news conference.
Petersen was joined by other Republican lawmakers including Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, and Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City.
"If this is such a win-win situation, who are the big losers?" Ward said. "Well, the big losers are the federal taxpayers. And remember, Arizona taxpayers are federal taxpayers."
Christina Corieri, health care policy analyst for the Goldwater Institute, an independent watchdog group that promotes limited government and free enterprise, said an example from Arizona's recent past illustrates the pitfalls of expanding Medicaid.
In 2000, voters approved Proposition 204 to extend Medicaid coverage to all adults up to the poverty line. Corieri said the change, reversed in 2011 due to budget deficits, cost much more than expected.
"The supporters of Medicaid expansion paint a very rosy picture, promising it will be all paid for by the federal government and the provider tax and not cost the Arizona taxpayer a dime," Corieri said. "The problem is Arizona heard all the same promises before, and the promises were not kept."
Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said one of his chief concerns with accepting the Medicaid funds is that the money could be used to pay for abortions.
"I cannot support expanding the amount of your tax dollars to Planned Parenthood and others who have this mission of terminating life before it is even born," Olson said.
Petersen said he's concerned that offering free health insurance could make recipients more likely to seek unnecessary and expensive treatment at emergency rooms.
"I know for me, I've had dire situations and I didn't want to call the ambulance because I didn't want to pay that $3,000 bill. I drove myself to the hospital," he said. "Other people they get a cold and they go to the hospital by ambulance three times a month. That's a broken incentive."
However, Assistant Minority Leader, Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said in an interview that people are doing that now. He said expanding Medicaid coverage would give people the insurance to go to a doctor instead of the hospital.
"If we could just bring this down to the floor, have a debate and let the people see what we're talking about, we could figure this out," he said.
A telephone message left with Brewer's office wasn't returned by late Thursday afternoon.