The Utah Legislature, open for business this week, has before it at least one proposed measure that is little more than a wanton act of cruelty. As well as an expression of willful economic ignorance.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, has put forth a proposal — Senate Bill 96 — that is designed to do nothing more than turn back the clear will of the people of this state, who petitioned for, campaigned for and passed Proposition 3. That voter initiative — which is state law unless and until the Legislature overrules it — directs that the state go ahead with the full expansion of the federal/state health insurance plan known as Medicaid, an expansion authorized by the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act in 2010 but made optional to the states by a confused Supreme Court ruling two years later.
It also goes a long way, if not all the way, toward paying the state’s 10 percent of the additional cost by imposing a tiny boost in the sales tax we all pay on purchases other than groceries.
The Utah economy has already foolishly walked away from more than $1.4 billion in federal health care payments that it was entitled to but was too proud to accept, offering flimsy excuses about being afraid of future costs and leaving others a reason to conclude that the resistance to that part of the ACA — aka Obamacare — was nothing more than partisan resentment.
Every nation on the planet that we would consider civilized considers access to health care a basic public service, like highways and schools and fire departments. Only the United States — or, since the ACA, parts of the United States — resist that idea and gag at the notion that the working poor should benefit from publicly supported programs.
The expansion of Medicaid as commanded by the people through Prop 3 would extend basic health care coverage to an estimated 150,000 of our relatives, friends and neighbors who, mostly through no fault of their own, other than they fact that they aren’t rich enough to make big campaign donations, are not poor enough to qualify for the state’s own parsimonious Medicaid plan but too poor to qualify for subsidies offered through the ACA.
If those 150,000 were the only ones to benefit from the program’s expansion, that would add a grain of credibility to the argument that the cost to the state would be unsustainable. But a healthier population is a clear benefit to everyone who lives here, as people are better able to work, care for their families, get an education and be productive members of society.
And the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be drawn down to pay hospitals, doctors, nurses, orderlies, clerks, etc., will turn over through the state economy, strengthening the fiscal health and quality offered to all of us by those institutions and skilled individuals.
Both Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox — the latter the state’s point man on dealing with the crisis of homelessness — have expressed their feeling that Medicaid expansion should launch, as scheduled, on April 1, honoring the will of the people.
They should do more than express. They should demand. And Herbert must have to hand, in Mark Twain’s phrase, a veto pen warmed up in hell if the Legislature tries to do anything else.