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Medicaid expansion: More care is right choice

April 15, 2013
The Republic | azcentral.com
By Editorial board

The political stakes are stratospheric as Gov. Jan Brewer tries to expand Medicaid and bring billions in federal funding to Arizona.

Despite a well-earned reputation as a conservative Republican, Brewer faces strong pushback from conservative Republicans in the Legislature. One opponent likened her to Judas.

This political drama has a wide audience, and spectators are looking for winners and losers.

But Brewer is trying to persuade, rather than coerce. That’s a good way to start, because this is a situation where all Arizona can win.

Conservatives who reject Brewer’s proposal should consider the business community’s strong support for this plan. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce is not a branch of the Jane Fonda fan club.

Conservative lawmakers should give credit to the governor’s judgment. Arizona does. A recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies found nearly half of likely voters support the plan, including Republicans. When people were told the governor is behind this, support increased.

This poll was funded by supporters of the plan, but it was straightforward and avoided questions that would push respondents in a particular direction.

The same cannot be said of another recent poll, by Magellan Strategies, which purports to show opposition among primary voters in certain Republican districts. That poll’s questions omit key details, such as the billions of federal dollars that would come into the state to help hundreds of thousands of people get health insurance.

Lawmakers should consider that uninsured people are expensive. They wind up at emergency rooms and get uncompensated care that results in a hidden health-care tax on everybody else.

Those costs have been going up because about 150,000 Arizonans lost coverage after Brewer and lawmakers imposed recession-era caps on Arizona’s version of Medicaid, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

About 50,000 more childless adults are due to lose coverage in January unless lawmakers approve the expansion.

The governor’s plan would allow sick people to get compensated care in a timely manner — before emergencies arise.

The federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs to cover roughly 350,000 poor Arizonans. That would bring $1.6 billion into the state by fiscal 2015.

Hospitals that treat Medicaid patients agreed to pay an assessment that would cover the state’s share of the cost. Under the governor’s plan, hospitals cannot pass that cost on to patients or insurers.

What’s more, Brewer added an escape clause. If the federal match falls below 80percent, Arizona no longer has to participate.

This is not a risky endeavor.

But when it comes to sky-high stakes, there is no question what this expansion would mean to living, breathing people. Your fellow Arizonans.

People suffer needlessly when they lack access to timely medical care. Minor problems become major illnesses. Chronic conditions become catastrophic emergencies. People with mental illnesses who are not treated can become a danger to themselves or others.

Whether you consider this from a human perspective or take a hard-headed economic view, the governor’s proposed Medicaid expansion is worth the political heartburn.

The plan makes sense for Arizona.

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