State lawmakers will have a special one-day session today to give Gov. Jan Brewer permission to seek a waiver from federal health care regulations.
Brewer wants to eliminate 280,000 people from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, effective Oct. 1. Her budget staffers figure that, on an annualized basis, that would save the state about $1 billion a year.
Arizona now provides free care for everyone below the federal poverty level, about $18,300 a year for a family of three. That is more generous than is required by Medicaid which picks up about two-thirds of the cost.
Brewer wants to reduce eligibility to close to the federal minimum. That means no coverage for childless adults and income at about a third of the federal poverty level for virtually everyone else.
But the federal health care reform legislation approved by Congress last year forbids states from reducing eligibility from what it was the day President Obama signed the measure. Brewer wants authorization from the Legislature to seek a waiver.
Senate President Russell Pearce said Tuesday it is possible that lawmakers may adopt a budget for the coming fiscal year before Arizona has an answer to the request. That puts the state in the position of assuming it would save $541 million for the new year -- and could use the money for something else -- on the assumption that the waiver will be granted.
But Pearce said he is confident Brewer will be successful.
Pearce said there already are the votes in both the House and Senate for the request.
Lawmakers already are at the Capitol for the regular legislative session. A special session, run concurrently with that, provides some procedural advantages for having the law take effect immediately.
Any waiver would be only until 2014. That is when the key provisions of the federal health care law kick in, requiring all states to provide free care for everyone earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level.