Controversial Medicaid law signed

This article originally appeared in the Moab Times. Read it in its entirety here.

As the 2019 session of the Utah Legislature continues into its third week, the debate over Medicaid expansion has dominated the headlines. Demonstrations occurred on the Capitol grounds and inside the legislative chambers as Utah lawmakers worked on a replacement for a voter-approved Medicaid expansion.

Utah Senators passed an amended version of Senate Bill 96 on Monday, Feb. 11, and Gov. Gary Herbert signed it into law shortly thereafter. The bill repeals Utah’s Medicaid expansion initiative, or Proposition 3, that passed in November with 53 percent of the statewide vote. Those opposed to the bill criticized it for providing coverage to fewer people than the voter-approved Prop. 3, costing more initially, and being reliant on concessions from the federal government. GOP leadership and Gov. Herbert have touted the replacement as being more financially viable in the long-term than Prop. 3. 

The House version of SB 96 that became law on Monday will launch a partial Medicaid expansion on April 1. Utahns earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level could have enrolled in Medicaid under Prop. 3, but SB

96 caps enrollment at 100 percent of the poverty level.

Under the partial expansion from SB 96, the federal government will pay 70 percent of Utah’s Medicaid costs. If the waiver request included in the bill is approved, then the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost, the same as what would’ve been covered under Prop. 3’s full expansion. If federal administrators reject the state’s waiver requests, then the bill automatically reverts to the full expansion that was approved by voters.

GOP leaders have expressed confidence that the waiver will be granted. However, Democrats have questioned the certainty around the waiver.

“We’re requesting a waiver on something that has never been done before, literally, in any other states,” House Minority Leader Brian King said. 

Aside from the citizens and faith leaders protesting at the Capitol, numerous organizations have decried the decision to pass SB 96.

AARP Utah issued a statement that shared its “considerable concerns” about SB 96, including “the work requirement imposed under the legislation, caps on enrollment… and caps on spending per enrollee.” The statement warns, “All of these measures have the potential to drastically change Medicaid as a vital safety net for low-income to a program that might limit care or deny it altogether.”

Chase Thomas, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, a good government advocacy and watchdog organization, called the House’s approval of SB 96 “absolutely shameful.” Thomas said, “A majority of Utahns across the state sent a loud and clear message in November that they wanted full Medicaid expansion, and they want their taxes to pay for it.” 

Thomas was particularly critical of representatives who voted in opposition to their districts on Prop. 3. “Given the demonstrations today, we doubt Utahns will forget these votes come 2020,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the Moab Times. Read it in its entirety here.

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