Proponents of full Medicaid expansion in Utah took their fight to state lawmakers on Saturday, going door to door in key districts where voters backed Proposition 3 but whose legislators have voted to water it down.
A total of 26 canvassers targeted residents of Utah Senate districts in Draper, Taylorsville, West Valley City, Ogden, Provo, Orangeville and Cache County in an effort backed by Utah Decides Health Care, which helped push Proposition 3.
Organizer Dawn Le, who turned out in Taylorsville with a handful of other supporters, said legislators were willfully ignoring the desires of voters to extend health coverage to disadvantaged Utahns.
At stake, Le said, was health care coverage for tens of thousands of Utahns, up to $1 billion in federal dollars — and an estimated 14,000 jobs that full Medicaid expansion could create in Utah.
“It seems like politicians are making a back-door deal now to undo that, saying voters didn’t understand what they voted for,” she said before setting off into neighborhoods in Taylorsville and West Valley City to knock on doors.
“We think voters should know what their legislators are doing,” she said. Canvassers handed out brightly colored leaflets featuring legislators’ phone numbers.
The effort follows a 56-19 vote in the Utah House on Friday in support of SB96, a partial Medicaid expansion program. Republican lawmakers have warned that unless it is altered, Proposition 3 as passed by voters last November threatens to create a deficit in state budgets.
The passage of SB96 by a two-thirds House majority means the bill can take effect immediately if signed into law, while also blocking supporters of Proposition 3′s full Medicaid expansion from overturning the measure by referendum.
All 56 “yes” votes came from Republicans, although three GOP members joined all 16 House Democrats in opposition. Those three all represent districts where voters approved Prop 3: Reps. Craig Hall of West Valley City, Steve Eliason of Sandy and Eric Hutchings of Kearns.
Democrats argued that SB96 was a needlessly complicated and costly attempt at partial expansion after voters approved Prop 3.
The bill passed the Utah Senate Monday by a similar two-thirds margin, largely along party lines, but senators still must approve subsequent House changes to SB96.
Saturday’s canvassing targeted districts where senators voted in favor of SB96 although voters had passed Proposition 3, Utah Decides Health Care said. All are Republicans.
• Sen. Wayne Harper, District 6, Taylorsville, where the proposition was supported by 55.5 percent of voters.
• Sen. Kirk Cullimore, District 9, Draper, 57.3 percent.
• Sen. Daniel Thatcher, District 12, West Valley City, 54.6 percent.
• Sen. Curt Bramble, District 16, Provo, 50.6 percent.
• Sen. Ann Millner, District 18, Ogden/Clearfield, 54.3 percent.
• Sen. Lyle Hillyard, District 25, Cache County, 51.5 percent.
• Sen. David Hinkins, District 27, Orangeville, 51 percent.
Utah Decides Health Care volunteer Keaton Hill, a 23-year-old student at Brigham Young University in Provo, noted that Medicaid expansion passed at the polls in Utah in spite of it being a conservative state.
“Legislators are undermining our voice,” Hill said. “If they cared about our voice, they wouldn’t be doing this.”
Canvassers brought a truck with a large digital screen to the parking lot of Calvin L. Smith Elementary School in Taylorsville, located in Harper’s district. The truck, which accompanied the canvassers as they went door to door, broadcast pro-Proposition 3 commercials urging residents to call their legislators to oppose SB96.
“Tell politicians NO to taking away our health care,” the commercial said, warning that “special interests and backroom deals” threatened to strip health care from up to 50,000 Utahns.
“Support democracy,” it urged. “Support Utah’s vote.”
Proposition 3 passed in November by a 53 percent margin but state analysts forecast that a full Medicaid expansion threatens to create state budget shortfalls in future years.
Friday’s House debate on SB96 was marked by protests in the House gallery and outside the chamber, where a range of faith leaders knelt in prayer and sang songs as lawmakers debated the bill.
The legislative overhaul of Proposition 3 comes after lawmakers gathered in special session in December to alter key provisions of Utah's Proposition 2 ballot initiative, in which voters approved medical marijuana.
Legislators have signaled a third initiative passed in November, Proposition 4, creating an independent redistricting commission, could also face legal challenges or future legislative review.
Proposition 3 calls for Utahns earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to be allowed to enroll for Medicaid coverage beginning April 1, with the federal government paying 90 percent of the state’s Medicaid costs.
If SB96 gains Senate approval and is signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, Medicaid enrollment would instead be capped at 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The feds would then pay 70 percent of Utah’s costs and the rest of the expansion population would be left to buy subsidized insurance from the Affordable Care Act individual marketplace.
SB96 also seeks a waiver from federal Medicaid administrators to pay the 90 percent cost share for the lower expansion threshold, and the measure budgets roughly $50 million for an 18-month “bridge” program, given that replacing Proposition 3 will initially cost the state more money to provide health care coverage to fewer people.
Leaders on Capitol Hill say they’ve been assured the Medicaid waiver will be approved. But SB96 also includes a contingency plan that would expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the poverty level if Utah’s waiver proposal is denied.