Legislative Republicans Getting Closer to Their Alternative to Healthy Utah

Perhaps by this week, hopefully by the end of next, Utah GOP leaders should have their compromise bill on Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion.

That bill will be the legislative Republicans’ plan, not necessarily one that’s acceptable to the GOP governor.

Friday House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, had a lengthy telephone conference call with six or seven senior executives of the federal Health and Human Services Department.

“It was a progressive, but frustrating, call,” said Dunnigan, who is the de facto leader of the majority party’s Medicaid expansion team.

“We keep asking – can we do this, can we do that?”

And the answers are not definite, he told UtahPolicy.

Still, Republican lawmakers have to work through for themselves the same process Herbert has gone through over the last 12 months – trying to get various Medicaid expansion options approved by the Barack Obama administration.

Herbert and GOP legislative leaders – especially in the House – are still quite a ways off on any compromise.

The GOP lawmakers’ starting position is to help provide private health insurance for between 10,000 and 16,000 of Utah’s poorer, sicker residents.

Herbert wants a plan that could insure upwards of 60,000 low-income Utahns – or maybe as many as 146,000, depending on how many Utahns ultimately qualify and apply for the health insurance help.

The Republican lawmakers say they want to spend around $5 million a year.

In several years, Herbert’s plan could cost upwards of $78 million – depending on how many low-income Utahns come out of he woodwork and decide to sign up for Healthy Utah.

In any case, settling on a Medicaid expansion state plan should be accomplished this 45-day session, which ends in mid-March.

So Dunnigan, Hughes and Senate GOP leaders will have to reach some agreements with HHS officials by then – or poorer, sicker Utahns will have to continue without health insurance and proper care for months to come.