Although we all know how much she hates the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare), Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is smart enough to take advantage of its generous subsidies to expand Medicaid to more uninsured, low-income Arizonans. She announced her decision in yesterday's State of the State address to the Legislature.
Just last year, Brewer was at the head of the effort to declare ACA unconstitutional. She lost the case in the Supreme Court, and since then has been considering her options. For once, she's actually considering the needs of the poorer people in this state.
Brewer declined to continue the state's work in establishing a health care exchange (for which the state received $30 million in federal setup funds) but she has, thankfully, agreed to take considerable federal funds to expand Medicaid to people who earn up to 133% over the poverty line.
That is, ironically, what voters agreed to provide back in 2000, when expanding Medicaid was on the ballot as Proposition 204. Two years ago, Brewer and the Legislature decided to break the law, ignore the voters' wishes, and reduce Medicaid eligibility to those at or below the poverty level. In addition to creating a new pool of uninsured, Brewer also froze KidsCare for three years. Happily, KidsCare II now covers kids in families with incomes up to 175% over the poverty level, or families of four with incomes up to $40,338.
A PowerPoint released by the Governor's office shows that this time, at least, the Governor is looking at the big picture.
- Too many uninsured people can compromise Arizona's competitiveness, particularly since almost all our neighboring states are expanding Medicaid.
- Covering an additional 57,000 is a "minor tweak" to the existing Medicaid population.
- The Feds will assume the lion's share of funding and provide $1.6 billion in matching funds to Arizona's $154 million contribution. That's a 10-to-1 match.
- The state will automatically roll back any new Medicaid benefits if federal funds drop below projections.
That last bullet kind of cancels out the PowerPoint's cheerleading for (finally) honoring Proposition 204, but we must be optimistic here.
Maybe the Governor is going soft where children are concerned. Following a terrible year for children under the jurisdiction of the state's Child Protective Services, she proposed adding 150 new caseworkers to agency. She also requested emergency funds to hire 50 right away.
And let's remember, last year she vetoed a bill that would allow guns to be carried on the campuses of the state's public colleges and universities.
I'm starting to like, sort of, this kinder, gentler, and more thoughtful version of Jan Brewer.