House Says Healthy Utah is Finished

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes may say fellow Republican Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion is dead in the House, but Senate leaders and the bill’s sponsor say “not so fast.”

And Hughes’ statement Wednesday afternoon that SB164 will not even get a House standing committee hearing has House Democrats very unhappy.

“Having a bill of this importance . . . . not even get a standing committee hearing in the House, well, for crying out loud, that is remarkable and troubling,” said House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake.

In his afternoon press briefing, Hughes said SB164, sponsored by Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, does not “even come close” to having 26 votes in the 63-member House Republican caucus.

SB164 passed the Senate Wednesday morning.

If you add 26 Republicans to the 12 House Democrats, you would have the 38 votes needed to pass a bill in the 75-member House.

Hughes declined to say how many votes Herbert’s Healthy Utah had in the caucus – which met in a closed caucus a week ago and Hughes asked for a show of hands on Healthy Utah and the Legislature’s Health Reform Task Force, or the “medically frail” Medicaid expansion alternative.

Hughes said there are only two weeks left in the general session, Medicaid expansion and Healthy Utah has taken up, by far, more time than any other issue, and he’s not going to allow any bill that doesn’t have some chance of passage in the House to dominate more time – even in a standing committee hearing.

For now, SB164 will sit in the House Rules Committee, said Hughes. And it won’t be coming out unless it can be a vehicle for some kind of Medicaid expansion compromise that a majority of House Republicans – 38 votes inside the caucus – can support.

Hughes doesn’t see that compromise now, although, “I never say never.”

Likewise, House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said he works on Medicaid expansion every day, and he doesn’t see such a compromise now, either.

But Senate GOP leaders and Shiozawa said there are still two weeks left in the session. “And there is more talking to do,” said Shiozawa in a short interview right after Hughes’ press briefing.

Herbert, likewise, has not fully weighed in on House GOP leaders, nor the Republican caucus.

Herbert could bring a lot of pressure on his GOP colleagues, if he decides to use it.

In a press release, Herbert was less than pleased with the House decision to not hear the bill.

"“The decision by House leadership to prevent the representatives of the people from hearing public comment–pro or con–and then voting on such an important issue is alarming and should be of significant concern to citizens across our state,” he said. “All Utahns deserve transparency and accountability from their elected officials, particularly when their inaction is, by default, a vote to give the federal government $800 million per year of Utah taxpayer money while getting almost nothing in return.”

Hughes said there may well be value leaving the session with no firm decision on Medicaid expansion, but still working on a solution – not only with the Senate and Herbert – but with federal HHS officials as well.

“I wouldn’t call that “doing nothing,”” said Hughes, reacting to Herbert and Senate leaders’ comments on the disappointment of not adopting Healthy Utah or some other bill that could “fill the gap” of around 89,000 Utahns not getting health care insurance as it stands today.

Said King: Considering all the work that has gone into Healthy Utah over the past year; all the support that it has in the community (several groups are running TV and radio ads in favor of Healthy Utah); all the citizens who have contacted lawmakers in favor of Healthy Utah; “and not even have a committee hearing? It is offensive to the procedure we have up here; against any notion of fairness.”

“We at least should hear (SB164) in a House committee; and we should take a vote” on the House floor, as well, said King.