The Arizona Legislature is plugging along with an abbreviated schedule, past the time when it often adjourns. The big sticking point is a strong push by Gov. Jan Brewer to expand Medicaid to include those who earn a third more than the federal poverty rate. That would benefit many Pinal County residents as well as health care providers.
At the same time, the expansion of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System would tie into the nation’s new health care law championed by President Obama. That fact, along with the major cost to be paid by the federal government, are reasons for strong opposition from some legislators.
The Medicaid expansion passed the Arizona Senate last week in a surprising twist after a handful of the Republican majority joined with Democrats to support the package. Senate President Andy Biggs is among the strongest critics of the plan that would add 300,000 or more people to the 1.3 million already on AHCCCS.
Action by the House now is uncertain. Speaker Andy Tobin would like to see the measure referred to a special election ballot. Others want to see the measure approved by the House members, which could be possible in a coalition of GOP representatives and Democrats.
Referral to the ballot certainly has merit. The measure probably would have a good chance of passage. And that approach would get around a sticking legal problem, a theory that the expansion involves a tax that really requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, something not likely to happen. GOP Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge, however, raised a key point: that legislators are elected to do a job. He is right — too often complicated matters are put on the ballot, delaying and confusing the issue.
However the expansion is handled, it really should pass. It is needed by the poor and also hospitals, which are dealing with many millions of dollars in unpaid services.