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Dems ready to work with Brewer on Medicaid expansion, but express caution

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer delivers her 2013 State of the State address. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer delivers her 2013 State of the State address. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Gov. Jan Brewer’s bombshell on Medicaid expansion in her State of the State speech Jan. 14 led many Democratic lawmakers to give her proposal a standing ovation for the first time in her four years at the dais.

When she announced she would be pushing for a full expansion of the state’s AHCCCS population to cover people at 133 percent of the federal poverty level, as encouraged by the federal health care law, Democrats stood up to cheer her while many Republicans were left staring at their shoes, shaking their heads.

Although Democrats received a huge boost in political capital with Brewer’s decision — which likely will require Democratic support to pass — their elation didn’t last long.

When they regrouped for their press conference immediately following Brewer’s speech, they were hesitant to praise Brewer for her decision, which has been a central tenet of Democrats’ vision for Arizona.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell was quick to note that “the devil is in the details.”

The caucus is onboard with Brewer’s proposed self-imposed fee by hospitals to pay for the expansion, Campbell said, but he pointed to the so-called circuit-breaker provision noted in Brewer’s speech as possibly problematic.

The governor said the state would automatically roll back enrollment if federal reimbursement rates decrease below the already agreed upon amount and date.

The federal government has already said it will roll back the reimbursement rates after 2016, and Campbell wonders what will happen to the expanded population at that time.

And though Democrats are already supportive of expansion, Campbell said if the governor wants Democrats to back her in her fight with the most conservative wing of the GOP, she’s going to have to help his caucus out more than Republican leadership in the Legislature has.

“(Brewer has) got to work with us,” he said. “If she wants to pass Medicaid expansion it’s not going to be a Republican-only pass, it’s going to need Democratic support and that means she has to work with us on some things.”

But Campbell acknowledged there is no circumstance he could envision in which Democrats wouldn’t support the full expansion.

Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix, the assistant Democratic leader, agreed that Brewer’s decision to buck her party on Medicaid expansion gives Democrats more political clout at the Capitol, but said that the split on the Republican side could lead to trouble.

“It could give us a little more ground to work with, but at same time we have a situation where Republicans could just shut down everything and just put up a protest vote,” Gallego said. “So we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and get too excited.”

Sen. Katie Hobbs of Phoenix said she expected the governor to push partial expansion, and that Democrats would have to fight to expand to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. She said she was pleasantly surprised that Brewer decided to head off that fight and go all-out on expansion. Democrats stand ready to work with her, even if that’s the only thing they could accomplish, she said.

“I think this would be part of a budget package, and it would be nice to have other things in the budget, but this is a huge win, and if we got this in the budget, it’d be a big win,” Hobbs said.

Senate Democratic Leader Leah Landrum Taylor said Arizona voters showed they want bipartisan solutions in the most recent election, and although it will be a battle to get expansion through both chambers, she believes Brewer made a good pitch in her speech.

“I think the governor in her discussion was differentiating between the Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion. She was trying to make it clear that this is something that’s a different road,” she said.

At the end of the day, Campbell said the governor’s plan sounds good, but he’ll have to see the details before he believes it’s true.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes people say one thing, then they propose something different. I want to see the plan before I say anything concrete,” he said. “I’m cautious. I’ve been burned down here a lot.”

— Reporter Ben Giles contributed to this article.

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