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Updated Jun 11, 2013 - 4:59 pm

Legislative leader delays Arizona Medicaid debate

PHOENIX -- The Arizona House will delay action until Thursday on Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal to expand Medicaid to 300,000 more poor residents, even though it is clear the proposal has enough votes to pass.

House Democrats and a handful of Republicans who support Brewer's proposal were expecting a vote either Tuesday or Wednesday, but Republican Speaker Andy Tobin adjourned the House until Thursday. He said it was to allow time to get the package of budget bills and Medicaid and their amendments ready for a floor debate and vote.

Democrats cried foul. Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, tweeted that Tobin ``pulled a fast one'' and that the will of the majority that support Medicaid was being subverted by the delay. Assistant minority leader Ruben Gallego, also of Phoenix, said he thought the Speaker was possibly trying to affect votes, but he won't be successful.

``In general I think a lot of us are upset that there's a majority here that is ready to pass Medicaid,'' Gallego said. ``There's really no reason to delay this any more. We have the votes and it's time for the vote and let's just get this done.''

The action came as a group of moderate Republicans were poised to join all 24 House Democrats in forcing the Medicaid vote. A House committee dominated by conservative Republicans rejected the Senate-passed budget bill that contained the Medicaid provision on Monday but supporters were ready to tack its provisions onto another bill.

The majority backing Medicaid could have forced a vote Tuesday, but Tobin said he believed they respected the process.

``It's all about respect. Clearly you could see that a Medicaid bill died yesterday and the first thing we did was put a vehicle on the House floor,'' Tobin said. ``A lot of members said we didn't know this was coming.

Conservatives were braced for a loss on the issue.

``If it does pass today, I think there will be a lot of Arizonans waking up tomorrow reading the newspaper and be shocked that Obamacare is enshrined in the law of Arizona,'' Rep. Adam Kwasman, R-Oro Valley, said before a bill expected to be amended to include Medicaid was pulled from consideration. ``I think we lose this vote but the battle for liberty and free markets and limited government rages on.''

Brewer has been fighting to persuade the Legislature to pass her plan since she shocked many by announcing she was embracing a signature part of the Affordable Care act in January. She has gathered the backing of the business community, hospitals, health care workers and patients, and also held a series of rallies at the Capitol.

The plan would cover people making between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level and restore coverage to more than 100,000 childless adults who lost Medicaid coverage because of a state budget crunch. Hospitals have seen their uncompensated care skyrocket since the free care went into effect two years ago and pushed for the plan.

Brewer would use a new assessment on hospitals for the state's share of the costs. About 1.3 million Arizonans already are covered by the state's plan, called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

The Senate passed Medicaid last month after a handful of Republicans joined all Democrats to support it. That incensed conservatives, but a similar coalition has now coalesced in the House.

Just Monday, nine Republicans joined all Democrats to pass a bill that increases school districts' ability to issue bonds.

``What those nine Republicans did siding with the Democrats ... it seems apparent we might have nine turncoats on our hands,'' said Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix. ``And with what they did yesterday, it may be an indication that they could do whatever they want on the floor.''

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