Local leaders gathered at the Utah Capitol Tuesday to throw their support behind legislation that would provide health coverage to those in extreme poverty.
House Bill 437 would provide Medicaid benefits to an estimated 16,000 Utahns who are considered most in need. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, members of the business community, and advocates for the homeless are supporting the proposal. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams thanked the bill’s sponsor House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan for what he called compassionate legislation.
“There are significant numbers of low-income individuals that cycle in and out of our jail, and in and out of our homeless services system with access to limited treatment options,” McAdams says. “These are the people that representative Dunnigan’s bill will help.” McAdams says he would prefer a solution that would close the coverage gap entirely, but this proposal appears to have the best hope of passing.
Last year, House Republicans rejected several proposals, finally concluding that the body was not interested in Medicaid expansion as it’s defined by the federal Affordable Care Act. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder says that was a blow to criminal justice reform which depends on funding for treatment.
“Last year, many of us in the criminal justice community were devastated at the news that the discussions of Medicaid expansion were simply dead. Thank God, they are not dead,” Winder says. “Thank God that good people like Representative Dunnigan and others in the Utah legislature to revitalize this critical effort and to move forward on a compromise.”
But for a former small business owner like Grant Burningham of Bountiful, this legislation does nothing. Burningham considers himself to be part of the middle class, but he has an immune disorder and is too sick to work.
“I’m one of those who would not be covered or helped, and I don’t think Dunnigan’s bill goes far enough,” Burningham says. Without health coverage, he says he’s at risk of becoming homeless.
Mayor McAdams says in the future, he’s hoping the state legislature will look towards serving all of the uninsured in Utah.