GOP-controlled health panel rejects Utah governor's alternative Medicaid plan

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Republican-controlled state health panel on Thursday rejected Gov. Gary Herbert's Medicaid expansion plan that aims to enroll poor, uninsured Utah residents in private health coverage.

In two separate votes, members of the Health Reform Task Force voted against the plan and instead recommended two alternatives that will cost less, cover fewer people and require the state to share a greater portion of the costs with the federal government.

Republicans voting against Herbert's plan said they're concerned about committing to its cost, which is estimated to reach about $78 million by 2021, according to legislative estimates.

Rep. Francis Gibson, a Mapleton Republican, said the estimated costs keep changing and committing to the more costly plan would take away from other pressing needs like funding public education.

"This isn't about pitting elementary school children against working men and women on the lower income scale," said Democratic Sen. Gene Davis of Salt Lake City. "This is about making sure that all citizens in the state of Utah are taken care of."

Davis and the other two Democrats on the 11-member task force voted for Herbert's plan, as did Republican Rep. Becky Edwards of North Salt Lake.

Edwards said she felt it was important to keep discussing Herbert's plan, particularly as his administration spent months negotiating it with the federal government.

Herbert needs the Legislature's support before seeking final approval from the federal government.

The rejection Thursday doesn't hinder the plan from moving forward during the upcoming legislative session but signals the Republican governor still has work to do to gain the support of Utah's GOP-controlled Legislature.

Herbert's spokesman Marty Carpenter said Thursday that the governor is willing to consider alternatives, but he still believes his plan is the best way to address the thousands without care and return money to Utah that is paid to Washington, D.C., in taxes.

Because of a flaw in the health care law, legislative staff estimate about 93,000 people in Utah are currently ineligible for Medicaid or federal help to pay for private plans on the online insurance marketplace.

The federal government has offered to help pay most of the cost if states expand eligibility for Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

In Utah, lawmakers estimate that would cover about 146,000 people.

Under Herbert's plan, the federal money would instead be used to enroll that same group in private plans.

The two Republican-recommended alternatives would cover low-income residents with the most serious health conditions.

One option would cover about 10,000 people and cost about $28 million by 2021. The other would be slightly broader to cover about 16,000 people and cost $40 million.


Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice .

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