The Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan is the culmination of two years of negotiations by the Governor. It has been thoroughly reviewed by the Interim Legislative Health Reform Task Force. It enjoys overwhelming public support.
It has also been heard in a Senate committee and debated on the Senate floor, not once, but twice, each time receiving majority support.
Yet House Speaker Greg Hughes has been defiantly refusing to give Healthy Utah a public debate. He tells us that he doesn’t have the votes, nevermind that whatever vote was taken was done behind closed doors to ensure anonymity to those speaking their minds.
But what is really behind Speaker Hughes’ move? Of the 63 members of the House Republican caucus, there are reportedly a good 18-20 members that refuse to vote in support of any expansion proposal, let alone the Healthy Utah plan. But who are these supposed opponents? And what of the remaining 43+ Republican House members? Where do they stand? Who is Speaker Hughes protecting?
Let’s take a closer look at a few members of the House Republican leadership team.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, the House majority leader, led the Legislative Health Reform Task Force but refused to support Healthy Utah. He also happens to work in the private insurance field.
Rep. Francis Gibson, House Majority Whip, and Rep. Dean Sanpei, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, both work for Intermountain Health Care, an organization that has taken a very vocal position in support of Healthy Utah.
Could conflicts of interest be at the heart of their refusal to debate Healthy Utah? Dunnigan’s position is certainly questionable. Reps. Gibson and Sanpei could find themselves at odds with their employer if they oppose Healthy Utah and at odds with their delegates if they support it. However, without public debate, we have no way of knowing how they or any legislator will vote.
But all hope is not lost. Dunnigan has been named as the House co-sponsor for SB164, Sen. Brian Shiozawa’s Healthy Utah bill. While it’s unlikely he’ll support it as is, any changes will require negotiations with the Senate and tentative approval by the Governor. There is reason to believe that a plausible compromise can still be reached.
Being a legislator isn’t easy, but it is a job every single legislator chose to pursue. They convinced voters in their district that they would support their issues and represent them with fidelity. Legislators, especially Speaker Hughes, would be wise to remember that their constituents include the tens of thousands of Utahns that desperately need the coverage Healthy Utah will provide.
Blocking important legislation, hiding behind closed-door votes, protecting legislators with conflicts of interest, all while intentionally excluding the public, is not upholding the honor of the office they hold.
With little more than a week left in the session, it’s time for Speaker Hughes to stop protecting his fellow legislators and start representing his constituents and the people of Utah who support passage of Healthy Utah.