PHOENIX -- Three Republican governors in the Southwest have announced in the past few weeks their support for an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, despite longstanding Republican opposition to the plan.
States can get three years of full federal funding for Medicaid if they extend coverage to those who qualify under federal guidelines, which means offering the service to individuals who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Nationwide, some 15 million uninsured Americans would stand to benefit from the expansion, but it is up to each state to decide whether to participate.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer surprised members of her own Republican party Monday when she announced her support for Medicaid expansion. She follows in the footsteps of fellow Southwestern GOP governors Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada.
Arizona's legislature must vote on the issue.
University of Nevada Las Vegas political scientist David Damore says these Republican governors might have found that "Obamacare" is no longer considered as politically toxic as it once was. Plus, these states have higher-than-average rates of uninsured people.
"These were also fast-growing states over the past couple of decades, and in some respects may not have had health care infrastructure catch up," Damore said. "That is certainly the case in Nevada."
According to 2011 census data, Nevada's uninsured rate is one of the highest in the country at 22 percent. New Mexico's rate of uninsured people is 21 percent, and Arizona is 18 percent.
The national average is 16 percent.
Still, several of the governors that have indicated they do not support expanding Medicaid, such as Nathan Deal of Georgia and Rick Perry of Texas, also lead states that have higher-than-average rates of uninsured people.
Texas leads the country with 24 percent uninsured.