Some proposed new flexibility for states to comply with the new federal health care law won't do much good for Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday.
President Obama on Monday told Brewer and other governors meeting in Washington that his administration is willing to let states opt out of some of the provisions of last year's as early as 2014. That's three years earlier than the original provisions of the Affordable Care Act adopted last year.
"I think that's a reasonable proposal,'' the president said.
But there's a catch: Obama told governors that his administration will grant waivers only "if your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does, without increasing the deficit.''
That means states that want to craft their own plans would still have to provide health care coverage for everyone up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, as approved by Congress last year. And that is a figure even higher than Arizona's current plan, the one Brewer wants to scale back.
And it also means Obama does not intend to have the federal treasury underwrite the states' higher costs.
"It's not going to help me or any of these other governors,'' Brewer said in a phone interview with Capitol Media Services.
"We're all working on our budgets,'' the governor said. Brewer said Arizona needs is real flexibility in a health care plan that won't drain the state coffers.
The message of the governors apparently was not lost on Obama. In his meeting he asked the National Governors Association to name a bipartisan group of its own members to work with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to lower costs but improve care.
"And if you can come up with more ways to reduce Medicaid costs while still providing quality care to those who need it I will support those proposals as well,'' he said.
Brewer said there might be no reason at all for governors to beg the Obama administration for more flexibility if the president would just cooperate.
"We're all waiting to see just what exactly happens in the courts,'' the governor said. More than two dozen states have filed multiple lawsuits challenging various provisions of the 2010 law, with different federal judges around the country so far issuing differing rulings.
Brewer said the governors specifically asked the president to agree to expedite the cases and have the issue presented directly to the U.S. Supreme Court where it ultimately will be decided, short-circuiting a series of time-consuming appeals.
"Of course, his comment was that he wanted to have a record'' from those hearings, the governor said. Brewer said she personally believes Obama is playing for time.
"I'm thinking from that he wants to see if it doesn't work or doesn't really work,'' she said.
The governor also met separately with Sebelius on Monday to talk about Arizona's efforts to scale back its own program on Oct. 1.
"It was encouraging,'' Brewer said.
Sebelius already has told Brewer she does not need federal permission to drop up to 250,000 people from the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, even though Washington provides about two-thirds of the annual funding. That move would bring total enrollment down to slightly more than one million.
The governor has proposed balancing next year's budget by eliminating care for 280,000. Brewer said she is still working on the plan which has yet to be approved by the Legislature.
Brewer is opposed to an alternative being pushed by Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, to have Arizona withdraw entirely from the federal Medicaid system and give up the federal cash because it limits the ability of the state to make major changes in how AHCCCS operates.