The 2015 Legislature will mostly be remembered for the knock-down, drag-out battle over Medicaid expansion.
The Utah House killed Governor Herbert's Healthy Utah plan in favor of their own Utah Cares proposal. Opponents of Healthy Utah fear the program is unsustainable, even though it's mostly paid for by federal tax dollars. On the other side, detractors of Utah Cares say it covers fewer Utahns than Healthy Utah, plus that coverage is thought to be inadequate.
A new UtahPolicy.com poll finds, given the choice, Utahns favor Healthy Utah over Utah Cares.
55% of Utahns say they prefer Healthy Utah, 20% want the House alternative (Utah Cares). 11% want the legislature to do nothing on Medicaid expansion. 14% say they don't know.
The question asked of respondents read: "Expansion for government-subsidized health care insurance for poorer Utahns (Medicaid expansion) has become a hot topic in the Utah Legislature. Governor Gary Herbert has his Healthy Utah plan. House Republicans are looking at other options. From what you know or have heard, which option do you favor?"
The answer choices were:
- Adopt Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan that covers up to 146,000 low-income Utahns and brings federal health care tax dollars paid by Utahns back to the state.
- Adopt the Republican House plan that covers around 60,000 low-income Utahns, and costs less over the long-term than Healthy Utah, but brings fewer tax dollars back to the state.
- Do nothing on Medicaid expansion in the 2015 Legislature. Wait and see if better plans can be found later.
- Don't know.
A plurality of Republicans (46%) say they favor Healthy Utah over Utah Cares and doing nothing. 80% of Democrats and 58% of political independents say they choose Healthy Utah.
Healthy Utah has been tweaked and pared back by the governor and lawmakers throughout the legislative session. Instead of a 3-year plan, it's been trimmed to just two. Legislators added a definite end date to Healthy Utah as well, funding it with one-time money instead of ongoing funds.
Even those changes haven't been enough to convince lawmakers who are worried the federal dollars will eventually dry up, leaving Utah on the hook for a massive new entitlement program. They argue it is not good public policy to offer low-income Utahns health insurance that could just disappear after two years. Others say it's folly to think that the state could end any program like Healthy Utah after two years.
On Friday, the Utah House pushed through the Utah Cares plan after killing Healthy Utah in a House committee meeting earlier in the week. The Senate passed Healthy Utah earlier in the session, but it was blocked in the House by leadership who said there was not enough support for the governor's plan.
Senate leaders have said many times they are hoping to find a way to marry the two plans. One idea discussed by Senate leaders would implement Healthy Utah for two years, and then slide into Utah Cares if the program looks unsustainable.
There are just four days left in the 2015 session. Unless lawmakers can break the impasse, and bring Gov. Gary Herbert on board, they may leave the Hill without doing anything on Medicaid expansion – a possibility just 11% of Utahns would favor.
The survey was conducted for Utah Policy.com by Dan Jones and Associates from March 3-5, 2015. The poll covered 406 registered Utah voters. Respondents were contacted by telephone and online. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.89%
Here are the crosstabs for the survey: