Bill to override Prop. 3 sails through the Senate Monday morning, but it may face more opposition in the House

Utah Capitol 06

The legislature’s plan to replace the Medicaid expansion approved by voters with a more scaled-back version easily passed the Utah Senate on Monday morning. But, there may be rougher waters waiting ahead of them once the bill gets to the House.

Lawmakers tweaked the financial numbers associated with SB96 on Monday morning, dropping the initial cost to the state from $74 million to $71 million over the first two years of the plan, which will provide medical coverage to approximately 90,000 Utahns who earn up to 100% of the federal poverty level. The state’s plan hinges entirely on winning a waiver that will give the state a more favorable financial split with the feds even though they aren’t expanding coverage to Utahns who make up to 138% of the poverty level, which is required by the Affordable Care Act.

“This is going to give the public long-term stability,” said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, the sponsor of SB96.

The most controversial part of the bill is a measure requiring the rollback of all Medicaid expansion if the waivers are not approved. Christensen shrugged off concerns about that proviso saying he’s confident Utah will get the waiver.

“People are telling us we’re going to get the waivers, and we’re choosing to believe them,” said Christensen.

The accusation that lawmakers are “ignoring the will of the people” from groups pushing for the full Medicaid expansion contained in Prop. 3 is clearly starting to take a toll on the Hill. Several lawmakers tell privately that they are worried they’re losing the public relations battle on the issue.

“They’ve been kicking our butts for the past week,” said one Republican lawmaker who asked that their name not be used.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told Monday morning that he is determined to get “coverage for all these people” in Medicaid expansion.

“Would we be working this hard” to help low-income Utahns “if we didn’t want to cover people? Of course not,” he said. “There are special interests out there — some from even out of state” who are purposely misleading the public about what the GOP Legislature is trying to do, said Wilson.

“And their attempts to bully” members of the House Republican caucus with telephone and emails “is not working.”

“In fact, it is bringing the caucus together” in being in favor of SB96, rather than driving wedges, said Wilson — in effect, backfiring.

The narrative about groups from outside of Utah is starting to gain some traction among GOP lawmakers who favor the legislaive alternative.

Wilson added he has little doubt that at least 50 – two-thirds of the whole House — will vote for SB96 before the end of the week — and so it can take effect by April 1 — which would be the beginning of whole Medicaid expansion under Prop 3, which passed last November with 53.3 percent of the vote.

Another reason lawmakers are pushing so hard to get supermajorities in both houses is that will block a potential citizen referendum on the issue from going to the ballot.

Meanwhile, a member of House leadership, not the speaker, told Monday morning that leaders “are not arm twisting anyone.”

But House leaders are determined to hold a vote a on SB96 by Friday, and it may take a closed GOP House caucus to count heads and solidify voting positions.

“It is a matter of bringing out the facts” about SB96, which has been whiplashed by supporters of Prop 3, muddying the political waters.

Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, is a physician who has favored full Medicaid expansion for years. He is currently battling against SB96 as written, specifically the repeal provision contained within the bill.

“That is the main problem” with SB96 — the automatic repeal says Ward. “Most of the (fellow House members he’s talked to) don’t understand the repeal — but it is right there in the bill,” he says.

From previous Medicaid battles under different House leadership, Ward knows the kinds of pressures that can be brought to bear on GOP caucus members.

“I don’t have those available to me,” he said — just being one of 59 Republicans in the House.

“And I don’t have the ability to count (pro-SB96 voters) like they (leaders) do,” said Ward.