Poll: Once Republicans Understand Herbert’s Healthy Utah Plan, They Support It

If GOP Gov. Gary Herbert can get Republican legislators to feel about his “Healthy Utah” insurance plan for low-income Utahns like Utah Republican voters feel about it – the plan should sail through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The big question is the “if.”

A new UtahPolicy.com poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, shows that GOP voters in the state strongly support Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” alternative to straight Medicaid expansion under Obamacare – or the Affordable Care Act.

True, like other Utahns, most Republicans really don’t understand “Healthy Utah.”

But once Jones explained it to them, they were onboard.

Jones explained the plan like this:

“Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan utilizes the private insurance market to provide health insurance for Utahns living at or near the federal poverty line. If implemented, the plan would return to Utah nearly 250 million dollars paid by Utahns to the federal government each year.

“Under the Healthy Utah plan, this money would be used to assist more than 55,000 low-income Utahns who currently lack access to affordable health insurance.

“Funds would either purchase insurance from the private insurance market or support participation in current state health insurance programs.

“Do you support or oppose Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan?”

In answer to that question, 79 percent of Republicans said they support the “Healthy Utah” alternative.

If Herbert could get that support from the 61 House Republicans and 24 GOP senators, his plan would scoot through the Legislature, no problem.

It’s clear that Medicaid expansion – as defined in the ACA – isn’t liked by Utah Republicans, and has gotten zero traction among GOP legislators, as well.

After Jones explained Medicaid expansion to those he polled, 42 percent of Republicans supported it, while 41 percent of the state’s GOP opposed it. 14 percent of Republicans were neutral.

Since Utah can’t adopt both “Healthy Utah” and ACA’s Medicaid expansion, Jones asked those polled to decide between them.

And a whopping 72 percent of Republicans said they preferred Herbert’s plan, only 10 percent said the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.

The Democrat Obama is highly disliked in Utah.

The Republican Herbert gets high job approval ratings.

So one can say “Duh?” to the political aspect to providing health care to lower-income Utahns.

But it goes further than straight partisanship.

The House GOP caucus, led by Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, is still resisting Herbert’s “Healthy Care” – partly because Herbert can’t present a full plan until he gets federal government waivers

Even so, a segment of the caucus doesn’t want to accept ANY federal dollars in additional Medicaid expansion.

But Herbert maintains that Utahns send back to Washington, D.C., hundreds of millions of dollars each year in taxes specifically for Medicaid – the federal government’s health care program for the poor.

And if Utah won’t take back some of that money in either ACA Medicaid expansion or some other kind of federally-approved health insurance for the poor, then Utah’s poor will suffer needlessly.

Well, that doesn’t seem to bother some Utah Republicans.

Jones found that 18 percent of Republican Utahns “strongly agree” with the statement that government shouldn’t provide any health care for the poor; while 7 percent “strongly disagree” with that Scrooge-like stand.

As you might expect, those polled who said they are Democrats feel about the opposite from Republicans in many of the poll’s health insurance results.

Political independents were a mixed bag.

Fifty-seven percent of Democrats preferred ACA Medicaid expansion to “Healthy Utah;” while independents favored “Healthy Utah” over Medicaid expansion 49-28 percent.

By the end of this month, says Herbert, he should have settled all the sticking points of “Healthy Utah” with federal officials and be ready to present his complete plan – with financing – to the Legislature.

He still wants lawmakers to meet in a special session before year’s end to adopt “Healthy Utah.”

But Lockhart and other GOP legislative leaders say it is probably better to wait until the 2015 general session, which starts the end of January, so that the costs of “Healthy Utah” – or any other alternative to Medicaid expansion – can be figured into the whole 2015-2016 budget.

(Editor’s Note: Zions Bank is a major sponsor of UtahPolicy and its support allows us to conduct the Dan Jones & Associates polling.)