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Growing Medicaid: Local business, medical leaders join Brewer call for healthcare expansion

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer talks about her plan to accept federal dollars for Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act at the Prescott Resort Tuesday afternoon.

Sen. Steve Pierce of Prescott joined local chamber and health care officials alongside Gov. Jan Brewer here Tuesday to voice their strong support for Brewer's proposal to expand Medicaid coverage for Arizonans.

Alongside her annual tradition of delivering a post-State of the State address in the Prescott area Tuesday after her Jan. 14 State of State address, Brewer made a stop at the Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott to drum up support for her Medicaid plan.

"We will save rural hospitals," Brewer said.

"It's a bold move to do what she's doing," Pierce said. "Rural hospitals are dying, and we have to do this to help rural hospitals." The governor's plan also will help mental health providers and patients, he noted.

The governor is conducting similar news conferences at hospitals throughout the state.

Some conservatives in the Legislature have criticized doing anything to prop up the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Although she opposed the Affordable Care Act and opted Arizona out of the act's health exchange, Brewer conceded the act now is the law of the land so she made a decision to help Arizona families and businesses.

The state will get an extra $2 billion annually in federal dollars to insure about 300,000 more people by providing Medicaid to anyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the governor's plan.

Hospitals and other health care sites will pay the state's match of about $154 million. They've proposed such a "bed tax" in the past and are happy to do it, because facilities that accept federal money have to cover the cost of treating uninsured people.

Brewer said she will include a "circuit breaker" in her plan to calm legislative fears that the feds could later make Arizona pay a larger share of Medicaid costs.

One study estimated that every family pays an average of an extra $2,000 per year in a "hidden tax" for health insurance because of all the sick people without insurance or Medicaid, Brewer said.

"We're paying for it...and it's now time to do what's right," Brewer said.

Several business and medical facility CEO's spoke at the governor's news conference at the hospital Tuesday.

"This is critically important for rural hospitals," Prescott Chamber of Commerce CEO David Maurer said of the governor's plan.

"This just makes sense for our businesses because they pay the cost of our uninsured through higher premiums," Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Marnie Uhl added.

West Yavapai Guidance Clinic CEO Larry Green said its local facilities provided $424,000 worth of charity care last year. Its psychiatric hospital is full and 13.5 percent of its patients can't pay for their care, he added.

Risa Little of the Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital in Prescott Valley said that facility spent "hundreds of thousands" on charity care last year, and saw a 62 percent drop in Medicaid patients after the state cut back on coverage for the poor.

Charity care doubled statewide during the 14 months since major state Medicaid cuts went into effect, Barnett said.

"There but for the grace of God go any of us," said Barbara Dember, interim CEO at the Verde Valley Medical Center in Cottonwood.


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