Could a conversion on Obamacare in Arizona spread to Maine?

Arizona Gov. Jane Brewer has stuck her finger in President Barack Obama’s face during a brief airport encounter.

She’s dared the federal government to intervene by passing a nasty anti-immigrant state law.

She’s a tea party favorite. A radical Republican. She seems to enjoy picking a fight, particularly with the president.

And, she plans to voluntarily adopt one of the key provisions of Obamacare. Arizona, according to numerous press reports, will expand Medicaid to cover more people who are uninsured.

Knock me over with a feather.

In her State of the State Address, here’s what Brewer said, maintaining a hint of derisiveness but making the case for Obamacare:

“Try as we might, the law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The president was re-elected, and his party controls the U.S. Senate.

“In short, the Affordable Care Act isn’t going anywhere – at least not for the time being,” Brewer said.

“By agreeing to expand our Medicaid program just slightly beyond what Arizona voters have twice mandated, we will:

  • Protect rural and safety-net hospitals from being pushed to the brink by their growing costs in caring for the uninsured;
  • Take advantage of the enormous economic benefits – inject $2 billion into our economy – save and create thousands of jobs; and,
  • Provide health care to hundreds of thousands of low-income Arizonans. 
Saying ‘no’ to this plan would not save these federal dollars from being spent or direct them to deficit reduction. 
No, Arizona’s tax dollars would simply be passed to another state – generating jobs and providing health care for citizens in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico or any other expansion state.

“With this move, we will secure a federal revenue stream to cover the costs of the uninsured who already show up in our doctor’s offices and emergency rooms,” Brewer continued.

“Under the current system, these costs are passed along to Arizona families. Health care premiums are raised year after year to account for expenses incurred by our hospitals as they provide care to the uninsured.

“This amounts to a hidden tax estimated at nearly $2,000 per family, per year.”

A few other Republicans governors are following along with Brewer’s epiphany, but at least 10 others are not, including Maine Gov. Paul LePage. Instead, they are rejecting health care for some of their vulnerable citizens out of a commitment to ideology.

There was a time when Brewer would have given LePage a run for his money on political vitriol. Now, it seems, that race is over and LePage has topped even himself, refusing to meet with Democrats and swearing and yelling at independents.

The benefits to providing health insurance to more people are as clear in Maine as they are in Arizona.

Estimates suggest that 44,000 people who otherwise can’t afford health insurance would qualify for coverage, with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the bill for three years and then 90 percent thereafter. Many of these people have jobs and work, but they don’t make enough money to be able to afford health insurance, even if their employer offers it.

There’s strong evidence that people with health insurance live longer and healthy lives.

Expanding the number of people with health insurance will also reduce costs for people who already have insurance. As Brewer says, the costs of providing health insurance for the uninsured is a hidden tax on current policy holders.

Disturbingly, one in 10 of those without health insurance and who would be newly eligible for coverage are veterans. In Maine, 7,000 veterans – men and women who have worn the uniform of our country and deserve our support – could have access to health insurance.

Here’s Brewer again: “With the realities facing us, taking advantage of this federal assistance is the strategic way to reduce Medicaid pressure on the state budget. We can prevent health care expenses from eroding core services, such as education and public safety, and improve Arizona’s ability to compete in the years ahead.”

I hold out little hope that LePage will have a conversion similar to Brewer’s. But her change of heart – from fierce opponent of the president and of Obamacare to willing supporter of expanded health insurance – suggests that other Republicans, including perhaps some of those in the Maine Legislature, could do the same.

Providing more working families with health insurance is a smart public investment — for Arizona and for Maine.