150,000 more Utahns poised to get medical coverage as voters OK Medicaid expansion

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Utah faith leaders gather at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, to make a joint statement in support of Proposition 3, which would expand Medicaid in Utah.

Help is on the way for 150,000 low-income Utahns seeking health care coverage after Utah voters approved full Medicaid expansion, according to unofficial election results late Tuesday.

Proposition 3 was carrying 55 percent of the vote at press time, with 45 percent opposing the measure.

“We’re feeling good,” campaign manager RyLee Curtis said. “[The results] are indicative of voters wanting to decide what happens for health care in their state.”

The voters’ endorsement of full Medicaid expansion supersedes and directly rebuffs a partial expansion approved by state lawmakers in March.

That plan, sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, has not yet been approved by the federal government. But no additional government nod is needed for the implementation of Prop 3, because it complies with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Lawmakers, including outgoing House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, have spoken against full expansion, warning it could overwhelm the state’s budget and require cuts in other spending areas.

At least one legislator, Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, has stated he intends to repeal Prop 3 even if voters embraced the measure.

“With the public vote, I don’t think that that’s sacrosanct,” Anderegg told The Salt Lake Tribune last month. “If we don’t [repeal Prop 3] and the numbers turn out where we think they are, I don’t know how we’re going to fund it.”

Spendlove said Tuesday that he would oppose efforts to repeal the initiative.

“The public has spoken,” he said, “and I think we all need to respect the will of the public.”

Still, Spendlove added that he continues to worry about the fiscal impact of full Medicaid expansion in Utah. He said other states that have fully expanded the program have seen enrollment and costs exceed projections.

“My concerns have never been political; my concerns are practical in nature,” Spendlove said. “I remain very concerned about our ability to fund this expansion.”

Curtis said she was not worried about a potential repeal effort by lawmakers.

“We really believe the Utah Legislature is going to respect the will of the people,” she said. “This process matters. People’s votes are their voice, and the people are speaking tonight.”

Prop 3 supporters gathered in Salt Lake City to watch the results, and Curtis said it was rewarding to see community members, including Medicaid patients, cheering the early success.

“Proposition 3 is about people,” she said. “There are people on the other end of these policy decisions.”

Enacting Prop 3 would include a 0.15 percent sales tax increase to generate roughly $90 million in state revenue. That funding would be combined with $800 million in federal tax revenue already paid by Utahns to cover the cost of new Medicaid enrollees.

Final election results will not be released until later this month.