Even though Republicans in the Utah House have blocked every effort to expand Medicaid, one Democratic Senator is launching an effort to get the state to sign on to full Medicaid expansion.
Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis (D-Salt Lake City) has introduced SB77, which has Utah accept full Medicaid expansion.
“The entire affordable care act, or Obamacare if you want to call it that, was designed for every citizen to have access to affordable, quality healthcare in this country,” says Davis. “Most all of the ACA can be managed by the state if they want, all the way down to Medicaid expansion.”
In the 2015 session, the Utah Senate passed a stripped-down version of Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” plan, which is the closest the state has come to expanding Medicaid. That effort died in the House. A competing plan in the House, which was a much slimmer expansion, also was not improved. After months of negotiation this past summer, House Republicans refused to bring a proposal forward for a vote in a special session.
Legislative leadership says they expect some sort of expansion will pass this session, but no proposals have seen the light of day, except for Davis’ full expansion. House leaders hope to bring forward a more modest expansion that focuses on the neediest of Utahns, who are in the so-called “coverage gap.” However, that plan will not meet the threshold to qualify for the 90/10 split under the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.” The smaller expansion will only qualify for the current 70/30 split of costs with the federal government.
A recent UtahPolicy.com survey found 70% of Utahns want lawmakers to pass some form of Medicaid expansion. The question did not specify any particular plan.
While some may say Davis’ effort is tilting at windmills, he says a full expansion is vital to make sure last year’s criminal justice reform works as it should.
“Remember the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act was designed with full Medicaid expansion in place,” warns Davis. “We’re looking to do something to help those individuals coming out of prison get the help and assistance they need in mental health or substance abuse programs. But, once those individuals get a job that’s above minimum wage, they don’t qualify for the Medicaid anymore. So, they have to make a decision. Do I want treatment for my illness to stay out of prison, or do I want to go out of the program because I can’t afford it on my own and I’ll go back to prison? Those are the things we have to debate.”