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Acting out of spite

House health plan moved by animus

First Published Feb 22 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 22 2014 01:01 am

Leaders of the Utah Legislature have clamped down this session on any discussion of same-sex marriage or other matters involving the rights and treatment of gay and lesbian people.

They reasonably fear that anything said in the inevitably contentious debates could be read as expressing the state’s hostility — "animus" in lawyer-speak — toward homosexuals. And that would seriously undermine the chances of getting the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

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But there remains plenty of animus on Utah’s Capitol Hill. And, perhaps because it can’t be openly aimed at the state’s LGBT population, some our top elected officials have had to find other, weaker, targets for their malice.

The favored victims picked out the other day by the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives are Utah’s working poor and their families. As well as all of the state’s taxpayers, health care providers, local governments, schools and every Utahn with a conscience.

In their blind frenzy to separate themselves and their state from the federal Affordable Care Act, from President Obama and from every attempt to push, pull and shove the United States into the ranks of civilized nations — i.e., those with affordable health care a universal standard — House Speaker Becky Lockhart and her allies have come up with a disgraceful scheme to run away from the expansion of Medicaid that was included in the ACA.

Rather than accept federal Medicaid funds, House Republicans would substitute a paper-thin plan to scrape up maybe $35 million in state money to buy insurance or otherwise provide care for a small sliver of the families who would be missed by a Utah refusal to expand Medicaid coverage.

Not only would that approach leave tens of thousands of Utahns without coverage, it would also leave on the table some $524 million in federal money that otherwise would have been provided to cover our friends and neighbors.

For Lockhart to characterize the House plan as fiscally responsible, as she does, would be laughable if it weren’t so clearly tragic to those left without coverage. And such a penalty to the whole of the state’s taxpayers.

Gov. Gary Herbert, with gentlemanly understatement, dismissed the House plan as "illogical." So there’s hope.

It is now up to Herbert, his experts and other reasonable people to use cool logic and warm compassion — not hot venom — and come up with the best plan for stretching available federal dollars to do the most good for Utah’s vulnerable families.

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