- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona House on Thursday passed a bill restoring a program providing health insurance to low-income children after backers succeeded in using a complicated legislative maneuver as a last-gasp measure.

The efforts by Republican backers of the proposal in the Arizona House were needed because Senate President Andy Biggs blocked the proposal and Biggs and others prevented its inclusion in the state budget passed this week. Its fate in the Senate remains unclear as the Legislature heads toward adjournment, possibly as early as Friday.

Arizona is the only state in the nation without a version of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program. Arizona’s plan, called KidsCare, once covered 60,000 low-income children but was frozen in 2010 because of a state budget crunch. Backers say they expect restoring the program will provide insurance to 30,000 children whose parents earn between 138 and 200 percent of the federal poverty line at no cost to the state.

Rep. Regina Cobb of Kingman and other supportive House Republicans joined with Democrats to change House rules to allow them to place the KidsCare program on a bill that slightly expands a school voucher program. Tying the issues together also has the potential benefit of sidelining at least some GOP opposition because the voucher proposal has broad support from social conservatives.

The amendment effort led to a divisive House debate that left a bitter taste in opponents’ mouths after backers used another tactic to end discussion.

“This is the kind of stuff that rips this body apart,” said Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who voted against the bill. “I find it to be thoroughly disgusting, I find it to be anti-American.”

But the House approved the measure on a 38-21 vote, along with a requirement that it be immediately transmitted to the Senate for action.

Biggs says the Affordable Care Act was supposed to cover those children and he worries the state will be on the hook if the federal government backs out of its commitment to pay the full cost.

Cobb said she’s aware that her tactic could backfire, because some conservative lawmakers have been considering adding some unrelated anti-abortion measures to KidsCare. She said that’s a chance she’s willing to take.

“The same thing was going on when my amendment was going on during the budget process,” Cobb said. “We take that risk.”

Cobb and other backers say they hope to force Biggs to put the bill up for vote.

There was harsh opposition to the plan from House conservatives.

“Is this a kindness? Sure it is, it is,” said Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale. “It just goes to show you there’s no end to the things that people will do to help others, with other people’s money.”

The move in the final days of the legislative session could force Biggs to either allow KidsCare to pass or adjourn, said Rep. Jay Lawrence, r-Scottsdale, who opposes the plan.

Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, said she wasn’t sure how she will vote on the legislation. She said she’s torn between wanting to ensure children get health care and the knowledge that the Affordable Care Act was designed to make insurance affordable for children who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

“I’m conflicted on the issue and will have to see if President Biggs puts it up on the board,” Lesko said. “Then I’ll have to make a decision.”

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