Jim Dabakis: The Utah Medicaid expansion deserves only scorn

Utah’s GOP power brokers have been more concerned about protecting big insurance than reaching out to small Utah families.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Representative Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville hugs drafting attorney Cathy DuPont after he spoke about her important role in getting the Medicaid expansion effort done. Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced the successful expansion, Wednesday, November 1, 2017.

State Republican leaders were gleeful recently after receiving a federal waiver on Medicaid expansion.

This waiver deserves only scorn. While it may have been a victory for a few politicians, it was a crushing defeat for tens of thousands of low-income families in Utah. These working families have no insurance because they cannot afford healthcare at market prices, are not qualified for Medicaid, or are unable to pay for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Common sense would require the ruling party to swallow their anti-Obama pride and simply take full Medicaid expansion. Instead, Utah’s GOP power brokers have been more concerned about protecting big insurance than reaching out to small Utah families. The GOP has danced around the issue and played political games since 2014. They have refused expansion while searching for some elusive “Utah Holy Grail” plan. They have dithered while many low-income Utahns have suffered, even died, without health care coverage.

While Republicans have been busy with countless trips to D.C. “negotiating” their paltry waiver, Utah has been losing ground. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utahns face uninsured rates of 16.8 percent, while the national state average hovers around 8.8 percent.

Here are a few comparisons between the GOP “waiver” plan and what full expansion would mean for low-income Utahns:

Full expansion would mean $677 million dollars a year to help Utahns get health coverage. The waiver is for $100 million dollars.

Full expansion would have used $610 million Washington dollars and $67 million state dollars a year to cover 134,000 people. The waiver takes $70 million D.C. dollars and adds $30 million in Utah taxpayer’s dollars to cover just 6,000 people. Under full expansion, Utah taxpayers chip in 10 percent of the cost while, under the waiver, the state’s share is 30 percent.

The waiver would cover only Utahns who earn under $576 a year, and the applicant must be chronically homeless or be in the criminal justice system through probation, parole or court-ordered substance abuse or mental health treatment.

Under full Medicaid expansion, all Utah adults (children are covered elsewhere) who earn less that 138 percent of poverty level, would be eligible for affordable insurance. That means, for example, a Utah family of four could get health care if their income was under $33,912 a year.

Astonishingly, since 2014, Utah has refused more than $1.8 billion dollars (according to the Office of Legislative Research) of our state’s share in full Medicaid expansion. This is money that could have brought lifesaving health care to countless Utah families. It is money that Utah workers have been paying in taxes for years. It is hundreds of millions of dollars the legislature callously refuses to accept.

Utahns must join with New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and even conservative Montana in accepting our share of full Medicaid expansion — not the nasty waiver substitute.

All Utahns should denounce this awful “waiver.” This session, I will sponsor a bill that requires the state to accept full expansion immediately. I challenge every fair-minded Utahn to watch their legislators and see where they stand on this most urgent issue.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City speaks about the call by the LDS Church for non-discrimination, during a press conference at the state capitol building in Salt Lake City, Tuesday January 27, 2015.

State Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, is a member of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.