The Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a controversial health care compact bill that both sides say is strong medicine — but disagree whether it will cure or kill Medicare and Medicaid in Utah.
Senators voted 20-7 to advance SB208 by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, to a final Senate vote.
The bill would have Utah join an interstate compact seeking to opt out of federal health care reform to let states control programs such as Medicaid and Medicare with federal block grants.
"I think we can manage our affairs better than the federal government," Adams said. "I think there’s lots of money to be gained" through local innovation that he says is hindered by federal red tape.
But Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, said many questions are unanswered about whether block grants would keep pace with inflation, and what administrative costs would be locally. The Utah Health Policy Project estimated in committee that Utah could lose $132 million in Medicaid by 2014 if the bill passes.
"I can guarantee that our services will be cut in Medicare and/or there will be an increase in taxes to pay for our seniors who need health care," Jones said. "There are better ways to experiment or innovate than it would be to have Utah run its own Medicare system. ... This is not a benign message bill."
Although Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, supported moving the bill to final debate, he said he has questions and said it may be wise to study the matter for a year.
"When I step out on the ice and hear cracking all around me, I want to know how deep the water is," he said. "I feel we are dealing with a gorilla much bigger than we can handle."
Several other senators signaled they haven’t decided how they’ll vote on final passage.
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