Photo by Howard Fischer, for the Miner.
PHOENIX – Saying he fears harm to Arizonans, Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday urged Congress to not rush repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“I don’t want to see any Arizonan have the rug pulled out from underneath them in terms of changing this law,’’ the governor told an audience of business executives, lobbyists and lawmakers.
“We can take a little time to get there,’’ he explained. “There’s no rush, although we should have a sense of urgency because it’s topical now.”
Ducey said it’s not that he’s a fan of the program.
“I believe that Obamacare is a monumental failure and a rolling disaster,’’ he said.
The governor said that has been borne out as the program has matured, with 14 of the state’s 15 counties having only a single provider. And he said premiums are increasing by 50 percent or more.
“This program is failing under its own weight,’’ Ducey said.
But the governor sought to dampen the enthusiasm of Republican members of Congress who already are moving to make outright repeal of the program their first order of business
“The skill is in the replacement of what everyone wanted to see, which was a better health care market,’’ he said.
Ducey said that will require a more measured approach than what occurred in 2010 when it was rushed through so quickly with no Republican votes that some members of Congress quipped that they had to vote for the measure to know what was in it.
“This time, how ’bout you read the bill before you sign it?’’ Ducey said.
More to the point, the governor said this time Congress should have broad input, including patients, doctors, advocates, insurers and the pharmaceutical industry.
That statement, however, ignores what did occur.
Obama convened a “health summit’’ shortly after taking office and brought in all of the interests that Ducey said Friday now need to be part of what comes next. And it took months before the final plan was approved by Congress.
Explaining his position after his public comments, Ducey said it’s important for the new Congress to see the issue not just in terms of finally having the votes – and a signature from the new president – to get their way on an issue that not a single Republican supported.
“I think the first thing to realize is that we are talking about people and people’s lives,’’ the governor said. “The problem with Obamacare is that it was rushed and it was hurried and it was partisan,’’ he continued, saying he believes federal lawmakers can do better if they take the time.
But Ducey was cagey when asked if he had conveyed his views to the Republican members of the congressional delegation, many of whom ran on platforms of making the repeal of the Affordable Care Act their first priority.
“I think I’m being recorded right now,’’ he quipped, suggesting that his views will get to Washington through the media.
There’s a potentially more immediate – and more direct – concern for Ducey if lawmakers repeal the federal law and the funding that goes with it.
Ducey predecessor Jan Brewer took advantage of one provision of the Affordable Care Act that said the federal government would pick up pretty much the entire cost if states expanded eligibility for their Medicaid programs.
Medicaid already paid about two-thirds of the cost for what Arizona had, which was free care for those below the federal poverty level. But in 2013 Brewer convinced lawmakers to extend the program to those up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level on the governor’s promise it would bring in $1.6 billion a year.
Ducey inherited that program. But if the Affordable Care Act goes away, so does the federal money.
The governor sidestepped questions of what is in his backup plan.
“These are all hypotheticals and I’m not going to deal with them,’’ he responded.
But it was that hypothetical that caused Brewer in 2013 to take a strong stance against Republican members of Congress who already were trying to repeal the law.
Brewer said then, like Ducey said Friday, she was never a fan of the program, pointing out she was among several governors who sued – unsuccessfully – to have it declared unconstitutional.
But she told Capitol Media Services at the time that once it was clear the law would take effect, she sought ways to have Arizona take advantage of the provision that rewards states that expand their Medicaid program. And she said that made it worthwhile to fight with state legislators from her own Republican Party – and even form an alliance with Democrats – to push the plan through.
“The bottom line is, we need that money in our economy to save rural hospitals and jobs in rural areas,’’ Brewer said at the time.