Medicaid expansion critics face upcoming deadline

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- A group trying to block a new law expanding Medicaid in Arizona by collecting enough signatures to put the matter on the ballot for voters to decide says it's on track to gather enough support by an upcoming deadline.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that the United Republican Alliance for Principled Conservatives declined to say how many signatures have been gathered so far.

The group must collect more than 86,000 valid signatures by Sept. 11 to get it on the November 2014 ballot. A successful petition effort would prevent the expansion from going into effect in January.

In mid-June, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law expanding the state's Medicaid program to 300,000 more poor Arizonans. Brewer, an early critic of the Affordable Care Act pushed by the Obama administration, surprised the nation when she sought the Medicaid expansion and noted that rejecting an expansion would mean Arizona taxpayers would subsidize care for those in other states while receiving no benefits themselves.

The expansion is expected bring in $1.6 billion a year in federal funding and help reduce the amount of uncompensated care hospitals must absorb and help cut what Brewer called a hidden health care tax that people who buy insurance pay, through higher premiums, to cover others' care.

Republican leaders in the Legislature had called the expansion a massive government overreach that would drive the federal government deeper into debt.

Former Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori, a proponent of the petition drive, predicted that any modest savings from reducing uncompensated care through the expansion will be far outpaced by overall state health care spending, foisting more expenses on taxpayers.

Members of Restoring Arizona, a group that supports the Medicaid expansion, say the Medicaid expansion and its relationship to the Affordable Care Act is minimal and that the actual function the petition will have in Arizona may be lost on some of those signing it.

"It seems as though there's an opportunity for people to believe that by signing they will overturn the Affordable Care Act," Tucson Medical Center spokeswoman Julia Strange said.

Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder doesn't think the signature gatherers will succeed.