A Utah House committee on Wednesday narrowly approved a controversial overhaul of voter-backed Proposition 3 to expand Medicaid, a potential sign of trouble for the legislation.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, testified defiantly as he sought to secure a pathway for his bill, S.B. 96, which would cap enrollment for the federal health care program and eventually limit its cost to the state.
"People say I have no heart ... 'you don't care, you don't care about anybody,'" Christensen told a packed hearing of the House Business and Labor Committee. "Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, this morning you passed, under my name, a $6 billion social services budget. I have no heart?"
The legislation will require two federal waivers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which aren’t guaranteed and have become a major point of contention in recent days.
“I feel comfortable we’re going to get it. I’m betting the farm that we’re going to get it. It’s a matter of risk here,” Christensen said.
Christensen’s Republican cosponsor, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chaired Wednesday’s committee. He amended the bill to eliminate an automatic repeal of Proposition 3 if neither federal waiver comes through. Critics had denounced the provision as a poison pill.
But later during a roll call vote, Dunnigan surprised onlookers when recording a “no” vote, joining two other Republicans in rejecting S.B. 96. The Taylorsville Republican left the room as reporters questioned why he voted against legislation he is cosponsoring.
— Benjamin Wood (@BjaminWood) February 6, 2019
Advocates on both sides of Prop 3 swarmed Wednesday’s hearing as the Medicaid debate dominated the Legislature’s first 10 days.
Minority leader Brian King, who sits on the committee, said Republicans are taking a big risk by counting on the federal government to approve their replacement plan.
“We can keep our fingers crossed if we want, that’s what we’re doing if we vote for it. But there’s a lot of uncertainty there. And the question then is whose welfare are we willing to gamble with?” said King.
The committee’s 9-6 final tally means the legislation could have a harder time securing a veto-proof majority in the full House. Gov. Gary Herbert has signaled his support for the overhaul and Republican leaders are hoping to get him a final bill to sign by Friday.