Commentary: Utah Medicaid plans would hurt working families

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stacy Sanford, health policy analyst for the Utah Health Policy Project, talks about Utah's "bridge" Medicaid expansion program at a news conference in Salt Lake City's Liberty Park on Monday April 1, 2019.

Have you ever had to go to work, or care for loved ones, when you are suffering from an illness? What about taking care of loved ones when you are sick, and also concerned about finances, debt or paying bills?

As a pediatrician, I see this situation often in my practice. I have seen how difficult and exhausting, even traumatic, it can be for parents to care for their children when they are sick. It can have a ripple effect throughout all aspects of a family’s life, with serious consequences on their physical and financial well-being.

Some lucky people have their own social support network to help out and provide financial support during such times – friends, families, co-workers. But of course, many do not. That is why we have Medicaid, health insurance for low-income people to turn to when they’ve fallen on hard times. Medicaid can help kids and parents get healthier, so they can get back on their feet, go to work and take care of their kids and loved ones.

But what if you try to enroll in Medicaid and find out that it is closed despite the fact that you don’t make enough to get health insurance another way? The safety net is out of service, you’re told, try back in a month, maybe two.

This is what could happen under proposed changes to Utah Medicaid. The state will be able to close enrollment at its choosing. This means Utah Medicaid is no longer guaranteed health insurance for those looking to get back on their feet, it is instead a program that puts arbitrary limits on those who can get care. Sign up on the wrong day and you could be out of luck.

Arbitrary enrollment caps are just one of several changes that the state legislature has put in place to Utah’s Medicaid program. Instead of moving forward to implement Medicaid expansion as voters demanded in last year’s election, the Legislature’s plan now limits eligibility, costs more by forgoing millions in federal dollars and leaves thousands more deserving Utahns without health coverage options they need and deserve.

These changes will do nothing to help low-income Utahns get the care they need. Rather these changes do just the opposite. They will make it harder for Utahns to get care and cause many eligible new individuals and parents to lose coverage. As a pediatrician, they will make it harder for me to help kids and families stay healthy. Utah must do better to take care of our working families. We all recognize that our children are our most precious resource; keeping them healthy and safe is vital to the future of our great state.

There is now an important opportunity for the public to weigh in on these proposed caps and restrictions to our Medicaid program. Officials have opened a public comment period on Utah’s proposed changes. By law, state and federal officials must consider every unique public comment. Your comments can and do make a difference.

This is a critical moment for public input. It is a moment to tell state and federal officials to protect and expand affordable coverage for Utahns, without limits, barriers, caps or cuts. We must speak out against these changes that will harm Utah kids and families and put the overall financial stability and sustainability of our state Medicaid program at risk.

Submit your comments to help more Utahns get the health care they need and know they have safety and security for themselves and their families.

Visit https://www.utahchildren.org/comment to submit your comments on the proposed changes to Utah Medicaid.

Paul Wirkus

Paul Wirkus, M.D., is president of the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Return to Story