Gov. Jan Brewer asked the Arizona Board of Regents to support her controversial AHCCCS expansion plan, arguing that it would free up general fund money for higher education.
The regents, the majority of whom are Brewer appointees, quickly granted her request, passing a resolution in support of both her overall budget plan and her proposal to increase Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The governor called the growing cost of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System the greatest threat to core services like higher education and public safety. Expanding coverage to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which will reduce the state’s share of Medicaid spending by bringing in substantial federal matching funds, will alleviate that threat, she said.
“While we will never have all the state funding we’d like for our universities, there’s a simple step that we can take now to protect those institutions. By expanding Medicaid in accordance with the Affordable Care Act, we can secure federal funding for health expenses the state and hospitals are already incurring,” Brewer told the regents Thursday during a meeting at Arizona State University’s Memorial Union. “My Medicaid plan will finally allow us to stop facing the false choice between supporting education and health care.”
After several regents and university presidents praised Brewer and pledged their support, the board approved a resolution of support with just one dissenting vote. The resolution announces that the board “enthusiastically endorses” Brewer’s plan, “which would allow general fund dollars to be redirected for education.”
The resolution also calls on the three university presidents and ABOR President Eileen Klein, the governor’s former chief of staff, to support and advocate for the proposal.
Under Arizona law, AHCCCS coverage is available to anyone earning up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, though a freeze on childless adults has been in place for the past two years due to budget constraints. If the state increases coverage to 133 percent, the two-to-one match Arizona receives from the federal government on Medicaid spending increases to about 85 percent.
Because the new federal spending will replace state funding for AHCCCS, the plan will give Arizona an extra $64 million in fiscal year 2014, $136 million in FY 2015 and $155 million in FY 2016, according to the Governor’s Office.
Regent Mark Killian praised Brewer and proposal.
“Arizona’s ability to invest in higher education has been limited due to the decline in general fund revenue and some of the circumstances the governor has underlined this morning, which has left us some very difficult and hard choices,” Killian said. “We are committed to supporting the budget the governor has put out, particularly as it relates to her recommendation that the Legislature adopt the expansion of Medicaid.”
ASU President Michael Crow said Brewer’s budget, including the Medicaid plan, “represents a deep commitment to the success of individuals and everyone being able to move forward,” while University of Arizona President Ann Hart stressed the need to find a way to pay for the increasing cost of uncompensated care at hospitals across the state.
“Someone will need to bear the cost of the citizens of Arizona who have to seek help,” Hart said. “The question is will we bond together to make sure that that is part of our joint commitment?”
The only regent to vote against the proposal was student Regent Tyler Bowyer, who said he had concerns about the university system’s increasing dependency on general fund revenue and on potential for tying the hands of future legislators, governors and regents.
“I’ve had a difficult time wrestling with all the things that are on the table,” said Bowyer, whom Brewer appointed to the board in 2011. “This is potentially going to constrain our ability to fund the higher education model that we are proposing and working on currently.”