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Lawmaker, health chief spar over ‘tyranny’ of Medicaid expansion

It’s usually late in Utah’s marathon, 45-day Legislative session that tempers flare and decorum is breached — not on a sunny, spring interim day.

But Thursday’s meeting of the Legislative Health Reform Task Force will go down as one of the more entertaining, devolving into a philosophical argument over health reform, specifically the question of whether Utah should expand Medicaid.

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A recording is available online - the highlight being a giddy exchange between Utah Department of Health chief Dave Patton and Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Layton.

Bemoaning the "tyranny of the federal government in taxing us into submission," Anderegg argued against expanding Medicaid on grounds that it means spending hundreds of millions in federal tax dollars, adding to our national debt.

Utah Department of Health chief David Patton countered that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t add to federal debt, because it was paid for through a slew of taxes. He added that Utah individuals and businesses have already paid those taxes. "We would like to reclaim those dollars not just leave them sitting there for other states to use," he said, referring to Gov. Gary Herbert’s private-market alternative to a straightforward Medicaid expansion.

"I have to concede you’re probably a brilliant physician but the math does not add up," said Anderegg.

"Sir, I’m actually not that kind of doctor," said Patton, a Ph.D.

Eventually task force chairman Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, called for order and Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorville, thanked Patton "for being the pin cushion" for the federal government.

But some readers of The Salt Lake Tribune have asked: should Anderegg have been allowed to question witnesses?

In a word: yes.

Anderegg is not a member of the task force, but was invited to participate along with Representatives Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy and Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden.

This rarely happens, but is allowed under Legislative rules, which give committee and task force chairs full discretion on who is allowed to speak.

-- Kirsten Stewart

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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