A Republican state senator has put forth a proposal for a partial expansion of Medicaid in Utah. Senate majority leaders say they are meeting Wednesday night to decide whether they will get behind this proposal, a different House plan that rejects Medicaid dollars, or another solution all together.
Republican Senator Brian Shiozawa is an Emergency Room doctor. So he’s all too familiar with the coverage gap - those 54,000 Utahns who live in poverty and can’t get health insurance.
“I work in a hospital that sees about 25 to 30 percent uninsured every day, and there are many hospitals that see even greater proportions to this. The Medicaid expansion would help these hospitals with this disproportionate share so they could get some more federal funding,” Shiozawa says. “In terms of what it would mean to these patients, it could be life-saving.”
Shiozawa says senate bill 251 is one of the proposals that came out of the state health system reform task force. It would expand Medicaid to cover those under the poverty line, but not up to 133 percent of poverty as a full expansion would. Rather than just enrolling citizens in the Medicaid program, it provides them with premium subsidies. Shiozawa estimates that Utah pays the federal government 895 million dollars in health taxes every year, and he doesn’t see that ending - even if Utah refuses to expand Medicaid, as a state House proposal would do.
“It’s likely that we’ll continue at least for the foreseeable future paying out these enormous amounts of tax dollars to the federal government, so let’s take some of them back for the citizens of Utah and care for our own people.” Shiozawa says. “We can do it for less state money than the House bill.”
If senate bill 251 is approved by the legislature and the governor, the state would request that the federal government pay 100 percent of the expansion costs until 2017, just as the feds would have done for a full expansion of Medicaid. So far, no state has received a waiver for a partial expansion of this kind.