Doctors, hospitals and advocates for the poor had high hopes Utah would become the 28th state to expand Medicaid this legislative session — a move that would cover more than a quarter of the state’s 400,000 uninsured.
A legislative task force spent the better part of a year studying the issue. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert commissioned his own studies and had vowed to make a decision in January.
But his plan, a "block grant" option announced late in the session, failed to win over GOP leaders in the House and Senate who want more time to weigh their options.
"Irreversible decisions ought to be made with as much deliberation and as much information as you possibly can," House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told The Salt Lake Tribune last week.
Herbert wants to use $258 million in federal expansion dollars to buy private coverage for the full expansion group — 111,000 Utahns with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, such as a single person earning less than $15,500.
He has sent advisers to Washington, D.C., to negotiate with the Obama administration, and though he lacks the backing of the Legislature, lawmakers haven’t tied his hands.
There are common elements in Herbert’s proposal and Senate and House plans. All of them would: use public (federal) dollars to buy private coverage; require enrollees to shoulder some of their health care costs; and allow the state to back out of the deal should promised federal funding dry up.
But House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, who is rumored to be running against Herbert in the next election cycle, has refused to approve of any expansion plan that draws on federal funds.
Even if Herbert wins final approval from the feds — a process that could take three months or more — he’ll have no way to fund his plan without lawmakers voting to accept federal funds.
For Utahns in need of affordable health coverage that means more uncertainty and waiting.
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