GOP-backed Medicaid expansion replacement signed into law by Gov. Herbert (Updated)

Utah Capitol 05

On a nearly straight party-line vote, the Utah Senate gave the final legislative approval to the scaled-back Medicaid expansion on Monday morning. SB96 overrides Prop. 3, which was approved by 53 percent of voters in November. Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill into law Monday afternoon.

Instead of full Medicaid expansion to low-income Utahns earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level, which is what voters approved this year, SB96 expands healthcare coverage to about 60,000 fewer Utahns. Instead, the state will expand Medicaid coverage to all Utahns earning up to 100% of federal poverty, which will cover about 90,000 Utahns. Included in that expansion is the ability to cap enrollment, as well as a request to the federal government to grant Utah a waiver to split the cost 90/10. Under the Affordable Care Act, the 90/10 split is only available to states that fully expand Medicaid.

If Utah can’t get the requested waivers, the fall-back plan implemented by the House is to fully expand Medicaid to 138% of poverty in 2020, which is what Prop. 3 mandated.

Sen. Jake Anderegg R-Lehi, who has been the most vocal critic of full expansion said the bill put him in an untenable position.

“I hate this bill,” he said. “Why do the voters want full expansion? Because it’s the first step toward universal healthcare, which I’m convinced is the wrong way to go. I’m going to vote for this bill because the alternative is Prop. 3.”

Democrats continued to criticize the move to scale back the expansion, pointing out that voters wanted full expansion, not the watered down version Republicans in the legislature were pushing ahead with.

“If we don’t get the waivers, we’ll be back here next year having this same debate,” said Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City. “I know that’s not what the people of Utah voted for.”

Republicans are understandably testy on this issue, often bristling when critics point out they’re undoing the very thing voters approved a few months ago.

“The voters approved a tax increase, but it wasn’t sufficient to cover what the proposition was attempting to do,” said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Orem. “I’d love to be able to drive a brand new Maserati, but maybe I can only afford a Ford. If they wanted full expansion, then the initiative should have had a tax increase that covered the full cost.”

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, the original sponsor of SB96 said the bill should satisfy voters and allow lawmakers to meet their constitutional requirements.

“We’re doing the long-term responsible thing, which is what we’re bound by the Constitution to do,” he said.

The only Republican voting against the bill was Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. He voted against SB96 when it first came up in the Senate during the first week.

Gov. Gary Herbert issued the following statement after he signed the bill into law Monday afternoon.

“SB 96 balances Utah’s sense of compassion and frugality. It provides quality coverage to the same population covered by Proposition 3 in a meaningful, humane and sustainable way. It is now time to set aside differences and move forward to get those in greatest need enrolled on Medicaid and on the federal health care exchanges.”