A proposal by Utah Republican leaders to shun federal money to expand Medicaid coverage in favor of dipping into state coffers was characterized Wednesday by Gov. Gary Herbert as “illogical.”
The governor said he didn't see why Utah should refuse federal money, which would amount to roughly a half a billion dollars and would cover the majority of the state's uninsured who don't qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, in favor of spending state money to insure far fewer people.
“The Utah taxpayer should not have to pay more and help fewer people and that's the proposal I see in the house that causes me concern,” Herbert said during his monthly KUED news conference. “That seems to be illogical to me.”
Under the plan, put forth by House Speaker Becky Lockart, R-Provo, the state would spend $35 million to cover an unknown portion of Utah's 54,000 residents who live below the poverty line. However, in doing so, the state would pass on receiving $524 million from the federal government.
Herbert said much of this federal money that could flow back to Utah came from Utahns, and if there's a chance for it to come back, it should. “When we have an opportunity to take it back. …” he said. “We probably ought to take a hard look at that opportunity, and Medicaid expansion is certainly a part of that.”
Democrats blasted the Republican plan. In a news release, Rep. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who is also the chairman of the state's Democratic Party, called the plan a “shapeless, expensive, and ineffective 'Utah solution.'”
“What has been presented goes against common sense,” he said. “It goes against the advice of the numerous state-funded commissions and studies, and it goes against the best interests of the people of Utah.”
Herbert said he doesn't intend to exert his influence on the legislature, and expects that once lawmakers have had a chance to weigh options for expanding Medicaid as thoroughly as he has, they'll come up with a better plan.
Whatever the end result, Herbert said he and other state leaders have a “moral obligation” to come up with a solution that takes care of all of those needing health insurance.
“I'm going to bring consensus,” he said. “We're going to come up with something this legislative session and it'll be a consensus attempt to solve the problem for those people that need some help.”
Advocates for low-income residents plan to rally at the capitol Thursday to urge the governor and lawmakers to enact legislation that covers all of the state's needy. The rally will include a call for more treatment programs for those who suffer from substance abuse disorders and mental health issues. The rally starts at noon at the capitol, 350 N. State Street.