Medicaid expansion foes fail to block law

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX (AP) -- Opponents of a new law expanding Medicaid in Arizona failed in their effort to block the law by forcing a referendum, conceding Wednesday that they just didn't collect enough signatures.

The group was about 5,000 short of the 86,405 signatures they needed before the 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline, organizer Christine Bauserman said.

The failure was a victory for Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who put her political legacy on the line by embracing a signature part of President Barack Obama's health care law in January and pushing it though a Legislature packed with conservative GOP opponents of the law. She managed to corral enough members of her own party to join with Democrats and pass the law on June 13 in the final hours of a tumultuous session.

"It's validation that Arizonans see Medicaid restoration as the right thing for Arizona's future," Brewer said in a statement. "The state will continue to move forward with the implementation of my plan, which will retain cost-effective healthcare for 60,000 Arizonans, reduce uncompensated care, fight the associated hidden health care tax, protect rural and safety-net hospitals and take pressure off our strained state budget."

Bauserman joined former Sens. Frank Antenori and Ron Gould in organizing the effort to block the law. Gould and Bauserman cited a hot summer, a short time frame and efforts by a group backing the governor's Medicaid expansion plan, known as Restoring Arizona, to limit their fundraising and run a counter-petition drive.

She said Wednesday while collecting final petitions in the shade of the Arizona Capitol that the group wasn't finished, but will regroup and keep fighting "Obamacare." She also said the group will target the handful of Republicans who backed Brewer during the battle.

"The divide in the party has just gotten bigger and more inflamed," she said. "It's the national Republican Party platform. It says repeal Obamacare, and how can you be in the party and not support it?"

The Goldwater Institute is considering a lawsuit to block the law. The group argues that because it uses a new assessment on hospitals to pay the added state costs, Medicaid expansion requires the 2/3 legislative vote needed to raise taxes. It must wait until the law officially takes effect Thursday to file suit.

The expansion plan will add about 300,000 poor Arizonans to the 1.3 million currently on the state's Medicaid insurance plan. About 60,000 of those people were previously covered but fell off the plan after the Legislature and Brewer cut the budget during the recession.