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Nonprofits rally for expanding Medicaid in Utah

Published November 1, 2013 5:01 pm

Reform • Environmentalists, unions and gay rights groups form "compassion coalition."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

An odd alliance of nearly a dozen nonprofit organizations gathered Friday outside the Governor's Mansion in a show of support for expanding Medicaid.

"For most of these groups, this has nothing to do with their mission," said Maryann Martindale, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, before the event. "But there are a lot of us out there frustrated by the immovability of our Legislature and governor and we thought we should stand up and say, 'Look, this affects everybody.'"

Joining Martindale on the "Coalition for a Compassionate Utah" are the usual suspects: low-income advocates Voices for Utah Children, Utahns Against Hunger and Planned Parenthood. But also lending support are groups focused on social issues besides poverty, including Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, Equality Utah, Sierra Club, HEAL Utah, Utah Votes, the League of Women Voters and Utah's AFL/CIO.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most Americans must get health insurance by 2014 or face a tax penalty, and Medicaid is one path to coverage under the law. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision said states can opt in or out of stretching the low-income health program to cover largely working poor adults, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert remains undecided.

There is no hard deadline for making the call, but states risk losing millions in funding if determination lingers.

In states that opt for full expansion, the federal government will pay 100 percent of those costs through 2017. After that, states will pay a share, but the law caps those expenses at 10 percent of overall costs.

"We're walking away from money that's going to be spent whether we take it or not," said Martindale.

Lives are also at stake, she added, citing studies showing reduced life spans for the uninsured.

Expanding Medicaid would cover up to 123,000 of Utah's 400,000 uninsured — those earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or $32,400 for a family of four and $15,856 a year for one person.

"I personally know people who will benefit from this," said Martindale. "It's easy to say, 'I won't need Medicaid.' But like any social program if you take a minute and think about your family or extended family and your friends, you'll come up with someone you know who needs this."

Union chief Dale Cox at the AFL/CIO says expanding Medicaid is good for the economy.

"If you've got a healthy workforce, you've got a productive workforce," he said.

Employers should share the burden of covering their workers, and responsible employers do, he said. "But they're penalized every time they go to the bid table because they're bidding against contractors who don't...It's sad but that's just the way it is."

Friday's event wasn't the start of a massive lobbying effort — just a message "saying we support this and we're going to tell our members to support this," said Martindale. "We'd love for other organizations to join."

kstewart@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kirstendstewart