SALT LAKE CITY -- Tens of thousands of Utahns are currently living without health insurance, trapped in what is called the Medicaid gap. Wednesday night, lawmakers killed one plan to cover them, while passing another.
“This is one of the biggest decisions you may ever make,” said Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, who sponsored the Governor’s Healthy Utah proposal.
In a 9-4 vote, the House Business and Labor Committee voted against Shiozawa’s bill, but voted in the same number to move forward with an alternative, Utah Cares.
“Passing on Healthy Utah is immoral, but passing it seems irresponsible,” said committee member Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George.
Shiozawa took several rounds of questions from committee members, who expressed concern about what cost the state would face once Healthy Utah runs out.
As proposed, it would be a two-year pilot project that would cover approximately 126,000 Utahns. The state would need to pay $25 million over the course of the plan, but it would earn $1 billion in a federal match.
“I think this committee was selected in terms of the way they intended to vote,” Shiozawa said. “I think the votes were already set.”
As the decision was read, several members of the public in attendance left the room. One of them was Diane Anderson, who testified before lawmakers about her struggle to receive treatment after breaking her back at work.
"People like me who have no anything, all we can do is just go in a corner and die. That's really the option that we have,” Anderson said.
After Shiozawa’s bill was killed, the committee then moved on to Utah Cares.
Under a two-year plan, approximately 60,000 Utahns would receive coverage per year, costing the state $64 million and netting about $200 million from the federal government.
“I believe we’re obligated to help the medically frail,” said Rep. Mike Shultz, who voted against Healthy Utah.
Utah Cares, sponsored by Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, now moves forward to the full House for further consideration.
But Shiozawa remained hopeful Wednesday that the discussion was not over, hinting at a possible meeting with House leadership.
“I would welcome a compromise,” he said. “They need to just tell me when and where.”