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Peg McEntee: Why do legislators want to deny people health care?

Published March 10, 2013 8:52 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a rage about the federal government's intolerable encroachment on states' rights, nine Utah House members last week endorsed a bill that would forbid the state from joining an expanded Medicaid program that would cover more than 130,000 low-income residents.

That would be President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and which would save Utah about $22 million in general and education funds by 2015 — not to mention covering about 131,000 Utahns who are jobless or working-poor adults.

It's a necessary plan that would save Utahns — and millions of Americans — from the degradation of living without health care. The ACA elevates the United States to the status of dozens of other nations whose medical and mental health treatment doesn't humiliate or bankrupt those who receive it.

But Rep. Jacob Anderegg, a Lehi Republican, and several of his conservative colleagues apparently know better.

In the House Business and Labor Committee, Anderegg substituted a colleague's bill — which would have nullified the ACA in Utah — with his own bill forbidding Utah to even participate in the Medicaid expansion.

The state, meantime, is awaiting a cost-benefit analysis on the Medicaid expansion, and Gov. Gary Herbert has said he'll decide whether to accept the federal money this summer.

Anderegg doesn't want to wait that long to erase so many Utahns' chances to get medical coverage. In a charming metaphor, he told the committee that accepting federal money "is like eating your own foot because you think there's protein there."

Then, Rep. Lee Perry introduced Joe Wolverton, a constitutional law attorney associated with the John Birch Society. Wolverton not only asserted that the feds couldn't afford to set up exchanges for 30 or 40 states (25 states already are in and about three more are considering joining), but that the U.S. Constitution itself was improperly ratified.

The Constitution, Wolverton said, was never voted on by the people; instead, the states called a constitutional convention and ratified the document. This, he said, has resulted in "tyranny on a once-free people."

But back to Obamacare. Several Republicans said their constituents were demanding that Utah shun the ACA. On the other hand, several representatives argued that while they might not like the ACA — or even detest it — the game was over when the high court ruled.

"All right, we didn't win this one," said Ogden Republic Dixon Pitcher. "Let's work with it, make it into a policy."

For Judi Hilman, executive director of the nonprofit Utah Health Policy Project, the problem is making a decision based on "blind ideology."

"We want everybody involved. We want to make an informed decision," she said. "This is a public, health and human issue. Wait for the study."

And, she added Friday, 77 percent of Utahns will still be covered by private insurance.

The Legislature ends Thursday night. As always, the House and Senate will be immersed in a last-days frenzy of passing legislation necessary for the well-being of the state and its people.

The best outcome for Anderegg's bill is to just let it fade away. We must allow facts and informed discussion guide the decision on whether Utah will agree to providing health care to those who need it now.

pegmcentee@sltrib.com