Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Is Medicaid expansion inevitable in Utah?
Health care » Utah has taken entitlement medicine before, but it’s gagging on new dose.

< Previous Page

Expanding for children » Today Medicaid covers about 279,000 Utahns and costs $2.2 billion, two-thirds of which comes from Uncle Sam.

At a glance

Herbert’s ‘Healthy Utah’ proposal

Participants in the “Healthy Utah” plan envisioned by Gov. Gary Herbert would have to contribute an average of $420 a year toward their health care.

Some would face a work requirement. Low-income parents whose children are on Medicaid could get financial help to move the whole family onto a private health plan.

“On private insurance they can probably get better quality of care and will have more insurance choices to fit their unique [health] needs,” Herbert said. “Nobody’s getting a free ride; they’ve got to put skin in the game. It’ll make for a better program with better outcomes and give us better bang for the buck.”

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"All the federal programs would push our budget out of whack. That’s been a perennial problem," said Norm Bangerter, who served in the Legislature in the mid-1970s and was Utah’s governor from 1985 to 1993.

"We always seemed to manage," Bangerter said, but as health costs soar and Medicaid demands a greater share of tax revenue, "it gets harder and harder."

Through the years, Utah’s eligibility rules changed and enrollment fluctuated, but it generally grew in pace with the population. Some states have threatened to drop Medicaid — which has never happened — while others have expanded eligibility.

The biggest expansion came in 1997 with creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The economy was booming and President Bill Clinton’s push for comprehensive health reform had failed. CHIP, seen as a concession, had bipartisan support, sponsored by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Hatch told The New York Times he was offering the legislation to prove that the Republican Party "does not hate children."

As a nation, he added, "we have a moral responsibility’’ to provide coverage for the most vulnerable children.

He was attacked, however, by conservatives in Washington and Utah. The Eagle Forum branded him a "Latter Day Liberal."

story continues below
story continues below

Utah lawmakers "protested strongly against taking federal money for another entitlement program, and it wasn’t certain how many children would qualify," recalls Rod Betit, who directed Utah’s Health Department under then-Gov. Mike Leavitt.

The duo lobbied Congress to shoulder more of the funding burden, and to permit states to cap enrollment and model CHIP benefits on private insurance plans.

"Hatch and Leavitt were arm-wrestling over it because Kennedy didn’t want to make concessions. But we were able to get the governors to push the issue [of flexibility]," said Betit. "That was the only way the thing got through the [Utah] Legislature. It passed by just a few votes [in 1998]."

‘Spend it in a better way’ » Today, Herbert is seeking flexibility from Washington to create a program lawmakers can support.

"He wants to bring some fiscal certainty to it and tie it to the private market," Betit said. "Those same kinds of dynamics are happening again."

Herbert wants the Obama administration to hand over Utah’s share of federal expansion funds — about $258 million a year — to fund private coverage for 111,000 poor and uninsured.

The feds are offering to pay the full costs of added Medicaid beneficiaries for the first three years and no less than 90 percent thereafter.

A growing federal deficit heightens fears that may change. This winter, Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, rejected the idea of taking the new Medicaid funds, arguing, "It would be irresponsible for the state of Utah to perpetuate reliance on federal money and continuance and reinforcement of a socialized medical system."

Congress has never withdrawn or reduced Medicaid funding, and increased it to help states through recessions in 2002 and 2004.

And the Congressional Budget Office has determined, more than once, that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will reduce the deficit, and that repealing it would increase the deficit. That’s because of a host of new taxes, predominantly on the health industry.

Next Page >

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

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.