Senate leader may block Medicaid expansion vote

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- The president of the Arizona Senate has thrown a new roadblock in front of Gov. Jan Brewer's push to expand Medicaid under provisions of the federal health care overhaul, vowing to try to block a vote on any bill that authorizes the move because he opposes the federal spending it requires.

Republican Sen. Andy Biggs' decision doesn't mean a bill can't get a vote, but his opposition makes it harder because the president normally controls floor action. And he said in an interview Wednesday that despite his objections he does expect the expansion to get a floor vote.

Biggs is one of the more vocal opponents of Brewer's plan to expand the state's Medicaid plan under President Barack Obama's new health care law to those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. It's supported by Democrats but has split the Republicans who control both chambers of the state Legislature.

His position, first reported by the Arizona Capitol Times, isn't unexpected, and may just be political. The move came before Biggs and other Republican opponents planned to hold a Thursday rally on the Capitol lawn.

Brewer, a Republican, has held a series of rallies of her own there, bringing in scores of expansion supporters, including doctors, nurses, hospital representatives, patients and the business community.

Other than his comments about trying to block a floor vote, Biggs' position has been clear since Brewer's surprise January announcement that she wanted to expand the state's Medicaid plan.

"It may get to the floor, but the policy's wrong," Biggs said Wednesday. "It's bad policy. It's the most egregious policy that I've seen down here in over a decade. It's multi-generational. It is immoral to lay a burden on future generations to pay for health care today."

Biggs was referring to the massive federal budget deficit, and how the expansion would be paid for with federal funds.

Despite the Republican opposition, Brewer holds many of the cards in the fight, including her ability to veto bills up to and including the state budget. Vetoes and possible special sessions called by the governor could keep the Legislature in session well beyond the normal end in mid- to late May.

There appear to be the votes to pass the expansion in the Senate, and although the House is a closer call the same is true in that chamber.

Brewer's spokesman invited lawmakers opposed to the expansion to come up with another option.

"The governor's had her plan out there for three months, and it's well past time for those lawmakers who remain opposed to present a viable alternative,' Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said Wednesday.

The governor's plan calls for a $250 million a year hospital assessment to pay the state's share of an expanded Medicaid program. The state can expect $1.6 billion a year in new federal funding and providers will avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated care. At least 300,000 poor Arizonans would join the nearly 1.3 million now covered by the state's version of Medicaid.