Legislative leaders are fast-tracking SB96, the bill to undo the voter-approved Medicaid expansion, and say they plan to have the bill on Governor Gary Herbert’s desk no later than next Friday.
House majority sources tell UtahPolicy.com that they plan to send the bill to a House committee the first part of next week, with a final vote in the House coming shortly thereafter.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Alan Christensen, R-Ogden, expands Medicaid coverage to fewer Utahns than Prop. 3 and costs the state more initially. Prop. 3 gives coverage to Utahns earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is required to get a 90/10 cost split with the federal government under the Affordable Care Act. SB96 only covers Utahns up to 100% of the poverty level, which means the normal 70/30 cost split. However, the state will seek a waiver from the Trump administration that will give Utah the 90/10 breakdown. The state will then move poorer Utahns who fall into the “coverage gap,” between 100 and 138 percent of poverty, into the federal healthcare exchange where they can get subsidies for private healthcare insurance.
Senate and House leaders say they’re expecting the measure to pass both houses with a ⅔ majority, and Governor Herbert is expected to sign the legislation. That means the bill goes into effect immediately.
Republicans are rushing to pass the Prop. 3 replacement so that they have time to secure a waiver from the Trump administration allowing the 90/10 cost split with the feds by April 1, which is the date Prop. 3 is scheduled to go into effect. That’s a risky play for lawmakers. If they can’t get the waiver in time, they’ll be open to criticism that not only did they undo a voter-approved measure, they also will have delayed healthcare coverage to vulnerable Utahns.
There’s another benefit for moving the bill through the House and Senate quickly – to stymie public outcry over lawmakers blocking a measure approved by voters.
Several years ago Medicaid expansion dominated a legislative session, with then-House Speaker Greg Hughes taking a lot of public heat for holding a bill passed by the Senate – with Democratic votes. Ultimately, Hughes let the Herbert expansion bill into the process, were it was voted down in the House. GOP legislative leaders are worried if the process takes much longer, the 2019 session will be hijacked by Medicaid expansion again. They’re not eager for a repeat.
UtahPolicy.com has learned GOP leaders had floated the idea of speeding SB96 through both houses during the first week of the 2019 session by suspending the rules, but they backed off that plan after realizing it would lead to more public outcry.
Several rank and file Republicans in the House have told UtahPolicy.com they are worried about the opics of cutting taxes by close to a quarter of a billion dollars while, at the same time, lawmakers cry poverty over expanding Medicaid.
House Minority Leader Brian King said Republican leadership has apprised him of the speedy timeline for passing their Medicaid bill. While he’s bothered by the quick action, he says there may be an opportunity for Democrats to slow down SB96 or even deny the ⅔ majority needed for the bill to take immediate effect by appealing to moderate Republican lawmakers who are uneasy about the process.
“This isn’t the way to pass a big bill like this,” says King. “We’re speeding through the process, then crossing our fingers to see if we can get this waiver.”
Republicans leaders have told nervous lawmakers that they have received signals from the Trump administration that they are poised to look favorably on the kind of waivers Utah is requesting in SB96.
“This bugs me that we are going way out on a limb here,” said King.
SB96 hit a minor roadblock on Thursday morning as sponsors were working out some technical details on a substitute version. Senate leaders said Thursday afternoon they wanted to have the fiscal note on the bill before final approval. That delayed an expected final vote on the bill to at least Friday.