Monday, January 27, 2014

Gov. Herbert Announces Medicaid will Expand in Utah

Utah will expand Medicaid to cover more of the state’s uninsured, Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday.

"Doing nothing ... I’ve taken off the table. Doing nothing is not an option," the Republican governor said at his monthly news conference, broadcast live on KUED Channel 7.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the way for states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid without losing federal funding.

The decision rests with governors, under the federal health law. In 2013, Utah legislators passed a bill giving them equal say — but federal law supersedes state law.

Still, legislators hold Utah’s purse strings and Gov. Gary Herbert has pledged to collaborate with them.

Herbert did not indicate which of two expansion strategies endorsed by a legislative Health Reform Task Force he prefers — or whether he has another in mind. He said he will make his decision during the legislative session that begins next week.

But Democrats and low-income advocates were encouraged by Herbert’s comments, his first public commitment to embrace an optional, but key, component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

"Every month that Utah waits to start a program, we lose over four million dollars in federal funding, thousands of families struggle accessing and paying for care, and continue to face the physical, mental and financial harm that occurs when families are uninsured," said Lincoln Nehring, a health policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children, in a statement.

Saluting Herbert’s decision, state Democratic party chairman Jim Dabakis said, "We trust that this is not a conditional acceptance, and that the Utah Legislature will see the wisdom in joining so many other states in providing a hand up to [those] desperate for affordable health care."

The full Medicaid expansion anticipated by the ACA would cover 111,000 Utah adults who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $32,000 for a family of four.

The federal government pays 100 percent of those costs through 2017, and then declining amounts, but no less than 90 percent.

But Utah’s Republican leaders fear the possibility of those federal dollars drying up. As a backup plan, House Speaker Becky Lockhart has floated the idea of setting aside a pool of money to cover unforeseen costs.

That’s "a possibility, one of probably many," said Herbert immediately after the KUED press conference. "The one thing we know about Utah is we are fiscally prudent."

Salt Lake Tribune

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