TUCSON — Saying their success would “devastate” the state budget, Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday said she does not want U.S. House Republicans to succeed in their bid to shutdown the Affordable Care Act.
Brewer said she has never been a fan of “Obamacare,” and she pointed out that she was among several governors who sued — unsuccessfully — to have it declared unconstitutional.
But the governor told Capitol Media Services that once it was clear the law would take effect, she sought ways to have Arizona take advantage of a key provision rewarding states that expand their Medicaid programs. In this state, that is the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which she described as the “gold standard” of Medicaid programs.
She said that made it worthwhile to fight with members of her own Republican Party — and even form an alliance with legislative Democrats — to push the plan through.
“The bottom line is we need that money in our economy to save rural hospitals and jobs in the rural areas,” the governor said.
“We need to make sure that in metropolitan areas that are seeing the majority of our AHCCCS patients are getting paid,” she continued.”It's all about jobs and getting back federal dollars that our taxpayers have paid to the federal government, to bring them home.”
Brewer estimates the Affordable Care Act will produce $1.6 billion in payments a year to the state's Medicaid program, and she said there is no direct cost to Arizona taxpayers, with the state's share being paid by a tax on hospitals.
It is that concern that is causing the normally partisan governor to lash out at congressional Republicans as much as she criticizes the president for the shutdown in Washington over the issue of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“It's pretty clear that the Obama administration does not want to compromise one iota,” the Republican governor said.
But asked if House Speaker John Boehner is wrong in refusing to put a clean “continuing resolution” on the floor for a vote —- one without repeal or delay of the Affordable Care Act — the normally partisan GOP governor said it would be wrong to put all the blame on that side.
“I will agree that Congress doesn't want to compromise one iota,” she explained.
“They need to come together,” Brewer continued. “They have to understand it's their job to get it done.”
And Brewer said those involved need to be realistic and recognize that “Obamacare” was enacted, it remains the law — and the votes are not there to repeal it.
“I've been in contact with our federal delegation and been in contact with the White House,” she said. “I'm hopeful that they understand, just like most policy-making people understand, that you don't always get it 100 percent your way.”
Brewer's interest goes beyond partisan politics.
In pursuing Medicaid expansion — and tapping into the Affordable Care Act — the governor caused a schism in her own Republican Party earlier this year. If the federal law goes away, then the problems Brewer created in her party will have been for naught.
But the governor said that's only a piece of the fallout if Arizona does not get the money from Washington she is counting on.
“If it doesn't happen, then we will be faced with a calamity,” she said.
One piece of that deals with the fact that Arizona stopped enrolling single adults in the program three years ago despite a voter mandate to provide care for everyone below the federal poverty level. But a bid to force the state to fund them faltered when the judges said the initiative required Arizona to use only “available” funds.
Now, however, the state ended the most recent fiscal year with close to $1 billion in the bank, not counting another $450 million in a “rainy day” fund. Brewer said she fears what will happen if a new lawsuit is brought and Arizona does not get the cash it is counting on from the Affordable Care Act.
“We will be forced by the courts to take those dollars out of our budget to pay for it,” she said, meaning less money for other programs.
Brewer said she has expressed her fears to members of the state's congressional delegation, many of who are part of the bid to kill or delay Obamacare by refusing to approve continuing federal funding.
“I don't know if they realize the extent of what will take place,” she said.
Brewer said while she thinks some elements of the Affordable Care Act are bad, she recognizes that it was the product of a compromise. And the part she wants — funds for Medicaid — were part of the package deal.
“I believe that Obama health care is something that the public did not like,” Brewer said, which is why she tried to kill it in court.
“We lost, they won,” she said. “It's the law of the land.”
And Brewer said that's the message she is trying to give to the state's delegation.
“What I try to say is, ‘Do your job, get something out of Congress, get continuing resolutions, and you always have the opportunity to go back and address Obama health care, and you can amend it,’” she said.
Brewer's position is shared by Rep. Jonathan Orr, R-Tucson, who split with the GOP majority to vote for Medicaid expansion. One of the reasons the governor was in Tucson Wednesday was for a fundraiser for him.
“My argument is, if you don't like something, this is the current law of the land,” Orr said. “Make it better instead of thrashing and saying 'We're going to stop this' when you clearly don't have the votes to do it.”