Corroon: Utahns are dying as the ‘Gang of Six’ dithers

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 09:50 pm

Most Americans have the same goals in life: to raise their families in safe communities, to provide a good education for their children, to have jobs that will pay for their basic living expenses and to make sure their families are protected with affordable health coverage.

But some of our Utah lawmakers feel that's too much to ask. We are now in our fourth year of withholding health coverage from tens of thousands of Utahns. First in 2012, Gov. Gary Herbert failed to implement Medicaid expansion. The Legislature also failed to pass health care legislation over the next couple of years. In 2015, the Legislature's Health Reform Task Force chose to turn its back on Herbert's Healthy Utah plan, a plan supported by business, religious and community leaders; a plan that would have covered many who live below the poverty line. The 2015 legislative session came and went, and still, we had no Medicaid expansion. All we had was a promise from the so-called "Gang of Six" to find a compromise by July 31, but the dithering continues. GOP leaders tout their progress towards a solution, but we've yet to see anything tangible.

It's been more than five years since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, and more than three years since Utahns became eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage. Rather than hearing from all sides, the debate on this issue has been led by a one-sided, Republican "Gang of Six" — a group that claims to have a "conceptual framework" for Medicaid expansion in Utah, but that has yet to produce any results. So we wait, not knowing the details of the "conceptual framework" or when it will be presented to the public. We don't know the details because both Democrats and the public have been shut out of the conversation.

Meanwhile, 198,000 Utahns remain without health coverage. People whose lives could have been spared under the Healthy Utah compromise have died. These families make less than $23,000 per year. They work at jobs that provide them with just enough to put a roof over their heads and food in their refrigerators; nothing more. They do not make enough money to receive health care subsidies, yet they are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid as it currently stands.

With health insurance premiums for the average Utah family at close to $1,000 per month, the average Utahn simply cannot afford it!

This approach has been shortsighted. The Utah Republicans are stepping over a dollar to save a dime. Our legislators beat their chests about how our state should not rely on the federal government, even though Utah's single largest funding source is currently federal funds. All the while, ego and political maneuvering have risen above the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have done to you."

Clearly, this issue is not a priority for our GOP leaders. Medicaid expansion is not a new debate for our state Legislature, but it's one that must be solved as soon as possible — not whenever GOP leaders find time to put it on the agenda. Utahns deserve better. Our Legislature should and must take the opportunity to do the right thing. The time is now.

Peter Corroon is chair of the Utah Democratic Party.