Tribune editorial: Legislature must keep its hands off Utah’s Prop 3

This Pat Bagley cartoon appears in The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.


Absolutely not.

Hell, no.

The Utah Legislature should not — must not — touch one provision, clause or comma of Proposition 3.

That’s the measure wisely and compassionately adopted by the people of Utah, with 53 percent of the vote, that not only directs, but pays for, the full and uncomplicated expansion of the federal/state Medicaid health insurance for low-income households to an estimated 150,000 Utahns.

The allergy of Utah’s ruling Republicans to this key provision of the federal Affordable Care Act has already seen the state’s economy walk away from an amount of money approaching $1.5 billion. That’s a sum that all Utahns have contributed to through their income taxes since the ACA — aka Obamacare — became law way back in 2010.

But none of it has come back to us in the form of payments to our doctors, hospitals, clinics, nurses, orderlies, clerks, to then flow through the state economy, providing jobs and customers for everyone else, just the way that Utah Republicans are so proud of when federal money supports, oh, say, Hill Air Force Base.

And, just by the way, money that would have provided the kind of access to health care that makes the difference between living in a First World country and being in whatever it is our elected leaders aspire to be.

Prop 3 has already gone through the state’s laborious process of drafting a proposed law, winning signatures on petitions, holding public hearings and winning over a majority of the state’s voters. That’s the alternative that was left when Republicans in the Legislature first rejected participation in the original ACA, then turned their backs on Gov. Gary Herbert’s inferior but still wholly workable alternative, Healthy Utah.

The argument against Medicaid expansion from the beginning was that, no matter what good it did for the people and for the state’s economy, it had a big price tag attached. A price tag that would only grow over time and that might soak up a big share of the state budget already stretched to accommodate needs from education to highways to public safety.

Which is why the authors of Prop 3 included — and the voters of Utah accepted — a small increase in the state’s sales tax on non-food items. The 0.15 percent hike is calculated to more than cover the state’s 10 percent match and finally draw down the 90 percent of the cost — an estimated $800 million a year — from the feds.

In other words, Prop 3 is paid for.

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, during the morning session at the Utah State Capitol Wednesday February 4, 2015.

Which hasn’t stopped some members of the Legislature, led by North Ogden Republican Sen. Allen Christensen, from squawking about high costs and the need to put “bumpers or guardrails” on the program by capping the number of our friends and neighbors who will benefit, imposing nonsensical and bureaucratically complex work requirements or inserting other churlish monkey wrenches into the system.

The main reason not to fiddle with what the voters in their wisdom have approved is that, as it is, Prop 3 can go into effect this spring without any need for the federal government to do anything other than send the money. Any alteration will require Utah to go to the Department of Health and Human Services, hat in hand, and ask for a waiver from the basic ACA requirements. Something that is hard to get, as is evidenced by the fact that the state has already tried for an insultingly small Medicaid plan — aimed at helping the homeless — which has been lost in bureaucratic limbo for many months.

Lawmakers have already performed a bait-and-switch on the voters by replacing the guts of Proposition 2, the one that sets up a medical marijuana system for Utahns in need. That should be enough to satisfy their need to meddle.

They should leave Prop 3 alone.