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Gov. Brewer gets her Medicaid expansion and an end to the legislative session

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In a stunning display of political muscle, Gov. Jan Brewer last week called a special session of the Legislature and, within days, led a bipartisan alliance of lawmakers to force through an extension of Medicaid and a state budget.

With the budget done by Thursday, June 13, lawmakers wrapped the remainder of their work on Friday and announced a final adjournment of the 2013 legislation session.

Since the delivery of her State of the State address in January, Brewer had been fighting for the Medicaid expansion, which will allow anyone below 133 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible for insurance through the state's AHCCCS program.

"Today, I had the pleasure of signing into law Arizona's most sweeping health care legislation in decades, as well as a state budget that is conservative, comprehensive and responsible," Brewer said in a statement on Monday, June 17. "Best of all, this fiscal 2014 spending plan is balanced. I commend and applaud legislators of both chambers, representing both sides of the aisle, who helped make these achievements possible."

The Medicaid expansion was easily the most contentious issue of the session. The majority of Republican lawmakers, including Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin, opposed the expansion, but Brewer—along with her allies in the healthcare industry and most of the chambers of commerce in the state—was able to persuade a handful of Republicans in both chambers to join with all of the Democrats to support the expansion.

Brewer argued throughout the session that the expansion would provide health insurance for 300,000 Arizonans, save the state's general fund $100 million and bring in an estimated $4.1 billion in federal dollars between fiscal years 2014 and 2016.

The legislation to expand Medicaid passed the Senate in mid-May but languished in the House as Tobin attempted to work out some kind of deal with Brewer and his caucus. When Tobin announced the House would recess for a few days beginning on Tuesday, June 11, Brewer lost her patience with the legislative delays and called the special session. Within 48 hours, the expansion and the budget were passed.

Democrats were celebrating the passage of the expansion. Rep. Bruce Wheeler, the minority whip who represents central Tucson, said that it was "by far the biggest" accomplishment he's been part of at the Arizona Legislature.

"It exceeds anything I did when I was on the (Tucson) City Council, when we had a majority of Democrats," Wheeler said. "As single accomplishments go, this is personally my biggest, and for the Legislature, from what I've been hearing, it's the biggest accomplishment in at least two decades."

Sen. Steve Farley, a Democrat who represents Tucson's north side and the Catalina Foothills, called the Medicaid expansion a "huge" win.

"I doubt very much there will be anything else in my time at the Legislature that will be as significant as what we've just done on Medicaid," Farley said. "It's huge for our economy, for our hospitals, for the 300,000 people who can now have health care."

But the majority of Republican lawmakers were dismayed by the Medicaid expansion.

Former state lawmaker Frank Antenori told the Weekly he hoped to file paperwork to launch a referendum drive to repeal the law this week.

As of Monday, June 17, Antenori was still huddling with lawyers to work out the language for the repeal, but he said an official launch of the campaign was planned for Saturday, June 22, at the state Capitol.

Antenori hoped to get a head start on signature collection later this week. To pull off a referendum, Antenori and his allies would have to gather just under 86,000 valid signatures before within 90 days of the end of the special session last Thursday, June 13.

Antenori also predicted that opponents of the expansion would file a lawsuit after the law goes into effect to challenge it on the grounds that it did not get approval from two-thirds of the Legislature, even though it includes a voluntary assessment on hospitals that some regard as a tax increase.

"They can't file it until it goes into effect," Antenori said. "You will not see anything until Sept. 11, because that's when the law goes into effect."

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