With ‘Looming’ Ballot Initiative, Gov. Herbert Signs Bill to Expand Medicaid

ST. GEORGE — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill Tuesday that will expand Medicaid to up to thousands of Utahns under the poverty line.

An estimated 700,000 people in Utah will be able to apply for Medicaid under legislation effected by a bill designated HB 472, which passed the Utah Legislature on the last day of the 2018 general session. The legislation expands Medicaid to cover all those who make up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The most controversial part of the bill includes a work mandate, which will require all able-bodied individuals to be employed before receiving benefits.

Even though this bill passed and was signed by Herbert, Medicaid isn’t quite expanded in Utah just yet. The Medicaid expansion revisions only require the Utah Department of Health to submit a waiver request to the federal government by Jan. 1, 2019, to expand Medicaid in the state. President Donald Trump has indicated the government would sign off on any plan to expand Medicaid if it included work requirements.

“If (people) are needing these kinds of services because they are in financial straits and if they are in a position, physically and mentally, to take on the added responsibility of work, it would really be a blessing and an opportunity for them to become self-supportive,” Herbert spokesman Paul Edwards said.

Herbert signed the Medicaid expansion revisions into law as a similar ballot initiative to fully expand Medicaid is currently gathering signatures to make it on the 2018 ballot. Fully expanding Medicaid means it would cover all those who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Lawmakers were able to quickly scrape $50 million together for this bill when faced with a ballot initiative looming on the horizon

“Lawmakers were able to quickly scrape $50 million together for this bill when faced with a ballot initiative looming on the horizon,” said Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy counsel for Better Utah, a government watchdog organization based in Salt Lake City. “It would now be immoral to say they could not find another $35 million to cover an additional tens of thousands of Utahns when millions of dollars in new revenue are instead being put toward renovated Olympic facilities, multimillion-dollar coal lawsuits, and countless other pork barrel projects.”

To be eligible for Medicaid coverage under the new law, an individual can’t make more than $12,140 a year or a family of four can’t make more than $25,100.

People who are disabled or who have “severe ailments” would not be required to work to receive Medicaid benefits under this new bill, bill sponsor Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said.

“We’re trying to help people,” Spendlove told St. George News in February, “help them improve their lives and get out of poverty.”

Article by Spencer Ricks with The St. George News originally published here.

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