Report stirs debate on Utah’s Medicaid expansion plans… again

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The legislative session came and went this year, with plenty of debate, but no solution to Utah’s pressing health care problem: Medicaid expansion.

Now, a new report weighing the expansion options is stirring public debate on the topic, again.

“We’ve looked at these risks carefully,” said Sven Wilson, chief economist for the consulting group Notalys.

Currently, 66,000 Utahns fall into what is called the coverage gap, created by the Affordable Care Act.  According to Wilson, the best way to change that is through Governor Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan.

The report, commissioned by Utah AARP, Voices for Utah Children and the Utah Health Policy Project, compared the governor’s plan to a House alternative, Utah Cares.

Healthy Utah would use the biggest federal match available to cover Utahns earning below 138% of the federal poverty level. It would bring in $912 million to the state over two years and spend $37 million. In comparison, Utah Cares would bring in about $345 million, cover fewer people, and spend $84 million.

“There is no monster under the bed here,” said Wilson. “The state can move forward here confidently and taking the funds to implement the governor’s plan without this concern that oh, what’s going to happen 5, 10 years from now?”

But it’s exactly that concern that prompted criticism from some lawmakers. House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan called the report biased and editorialized.

“I think some of the assumptions they’ve made in here are erroneous,” said Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

After lawmakers failed to reach an agreement earlier this year, Dunnigan and five other state leaders formed the Gang of 6, a group tasked with finally coming up with an expansion plan. However, for him, the report focuses solely on ideas that have already failed to pass.

“I will just say that I hope the folks that authorized this didn’t spend a lot of money on it,” Dunnigan said, “There’s not much new information in here. There really isn’t. This is a rehash of what we went through last session.”

But according to Wilson, that is the point.

“What kind of democracy is it that our legislators are unwilling to implement programs because they are afraid that people will like them?” he asked.

The Gang of 6 gave themselves a deadline of July to present an expansion plan. However, Tuesday, Dunnigan indicated they may only have a “concept” of a plan by that date.

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