When Gov. Jan Brewer walked into the room for her Medicaid expansion signing ceremony, she was met by a standing ovation. After she signed the bill, she let out a sigh of relief.
The signing ceremony was the culmination of nearly six months of work. Brewer stood with her bipartisan collation of lawmakers and other supporters of her plan, including about two dozen Democrats and nearly every Republican who joined with her, thanking them for their courage in the face of fierce opposition.
“You’ve accomplished in Arizona what political commentators and experts just months ago said it was impossible. You stood firm with me on behalf of the state you serve. You put people before politics. And you stayed strong in the face of personal attacks,” Brewer said during the ceremony Tuesday at the executive tower.
The governor emphasized the human aspect of her plan, recounting the Medicaid patients who have spoken about how important Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System coverage has been to their lives. They included a single mother who credited Medicaid with saving her life from breast cancer, a hemophiliac who is dependent on AHCCCS for his expensive medication, and an Arizona State University student who said Medicaid-funded treatment for her autoimmune disease kept her from going blind.
Brewer also talked about the hospitals that urged Medicaid expansion as a way to ease the costs of caring for the uninsured and the uninsured people who are forced to use emergency rooms for primary care.
“When I announced my Medicaid restoration plan in January I knew the road ahead would be rough. I knew I had not chosen the easy path. But I learned a long time ago that what is easy and what is right are rarely the same. Well today, I know in my heart that we have made the right choice,” Brewer said.
The lawmakers whom Brewer thanked in turn expressed their gratitude to the governor for leading the way. Rep. Heather Carter, who led the charge for Medicaid expansion in the House, thanked each of the pro-expansion House Republicans by name, and singled out Brewer for special praise.
“You have been heroic and, even more importantly, a rock star. And thanks to your determined leadership, we will provide health care to hundreds of thousands of Arizona’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Carter, R-Cave Creek. “It’s a historic achievement, and the honor of a lifetime to be by your side as you make it the law of our land.”
Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor thanked her Republican colleagues for standing up to the “extraordinary pressures” they faced from members of their own party, her Democratic colleagues for reaching across the political divide, and Brewer for leading the way.
“This is a shining example of the good that can come from bipartisanship,” said Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix. “We were truly able to achieve something very special.”
Like his Senate counterpart, House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said Medicaid expansion was an example of what the Legislature can achieve when everyone works together. He recalled another signing ceremony early in the session in the same second-floor conference room of the executive tower, when Republican and Democratic leadership celebrated the bipartisan passage of a bill to provide extra funding for Child Protective Services. He said the Democrats were pleased to stand with the governor on Medicaid expansion.
“It was one of the boldest things I’ve seen. The governor coming out on day one was immensely exciting for all of us on the Democratic side of the aisle. And we wanted to be there for you from day one, and I hope we were, Governor Brewer. And I think we got that done because we worked together,” Campbell said.
Sen. Steve Pierce, one of Brewer’s most steadfast GOP allies in the Medicaid fight, echoed the governor’s statement that expansion was the right thing to do. He emphasized how important expansion is for struggling rural hospitals, like the ones in his Yavapai County-based district, and said he was grateful that 250,000 to 350,000 people will now receive Medicaid coverage.
Pierce, R-Prescott, also said it was disappointing that expansion opponents weren’t able to “disagree honorably.”
“It’s a shame that those that disagreed with those of us up here are so disagreeable. We’re getting used to it,” Pierce said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “I believe, in our Legislature, we need to have more civility. We need to have more respect for the institution. And we need to have more respect for each other. And that’s been gone down there.”
Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer said expansion will help ease the cost that uncompensated care is ultimately passed on to hospitals but to businesses across the state.
“From the get-go, the entire business community was united behind you, governor,” Hamer said.
And Greg Vigdor, who took over as CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Health Care Association just as Brewer announced her plan, said the plan was so important that hospitals agreed to impose a tax on themselves to fund the expansion. Vigdor said he was unhappy working to implement Obamacare in Washington state, where he worked previously. But Arizona, he said, grabbed a hold of one of the good parts of the law.
“I saw a great opportunity to do something really significant in terms of health policy,” said Vigdor, who came to Arizona about five months ago.