House Republicans Working on “Utah Solution” for Poor, Uninsured

Jan 31, 2014

Governor Gary Herbert said this week that the state has a moral obligation to provide some type of health coverage for those living in poverty. House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart says she doesn’t want to accept any federal dollars to do that. Now Republican House lawmakers are working to find a solution that will solve the so-called Medicaid gap, but will also be politically acceptable to those in their own party.

The US Supreme Court left it up to states to decide if they wanted to expand Medicaid, and Utah is one of the last states to make that decision, leaving about 60,000 people without any options for health insurance. In his state of the state address, Governor Herbert blamed the gap in coverage on flaws in the federal Affordable Care Act, but said Utah must do something to help this population.

“Assisting the poor in our state is a moral obligation that must be addressed. I look forward to working with you in the legislature to create a Utah model for fixing this hole in the safety net,” Herbert said.

But in House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart’s opening address, she made it clear she did not support an expansion of Medicaid.

“President Obama’s scheme to swell the Medicaid rolls in exchange for a partial and temporary federal subsidy isn’t just a trick; it’s a trap. It is an out-in-the-open bait and switch guaranteed to leave us worse off,” Lockhart said.  

The federal government has committed to pay the full costs of expanding Medicaid until 2017, at which point states have to start paying a share of those costs. But Lockhart says the House is looking for a solution that does not involve taking federal money. House Majority Leader Brad Dee says he doesn’t trust the federal government either, but it may not be realistic to rely only on state funds. Dee says ideally, he would like a waiver that lets Utah control the federal dollars and how they’re spent. He says everyone is staking out their positions at this point.

“I’m thinking there is an area of negotiation somewhere in there, where we and the governor, and the federal government can say we’re not going to leave these people unprotected and stranded, and compassion I hope will rule the day,” Dee says. 

House leaders say they have a team of lawmakers with healthcare expertise working to find solutions. They will likely have some specific proposals within two weeks.