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BYU Professor Says State Budget is Only Small Part of Medicaid Decision

Utah lawmakers have another study to consider as they make their decision on whether to expand Medicaid in the state. The Utah Department of Health hired BYU Public Policy Professor Sven Wilson to produce an independent economic analysis. Dr. Wilson presented his findings to the state’s Medicaid community workgroup this week. He says state lawmakers are missing the big picture on Medicaid.

“The legislative discussions are usually about how much is this going to cost us. The impacts on the state budget are an important question, but the overall question is much bigger than that,” Wilson says. “The societal and economic impacts that the state are making now go well beyond the budgets, and in fact, what I argue in this economics brief that I wrote is that the state budgetary impacts are the smallest part of this.”

Wilson argues the state should be thinking about economic benefits generated by billions of additional federal dollars coming into the state. And even more important, he says, is the benefits to the uninsured. Wilson calculates that those who gain insurance through a Medicaid expansion will receive billions of dollar worth of direct benefits over the next decade. Meanwhile the cost to the state is estimated to be about 158 million dollars.

“The state is being asked to pay maybe 100-150 dollars a year per person over the next ten years,” Wilson says. “That’s what an economist would call a bargain - getting something to the state that costs very little that has big benefits to the citizens.”

Sven Wilson is Professor of Public Policy at BYU in the Departments of Political Science and Economics and Senior Consultant in the Utah Department of Health.

Wilson says the Affordable Care Act may or may not be a bad idea for the nation, but he warns that if Utah refuses federal money on principle, it will do little to protect the state’s economically disadvantaged citizens.

“As an economist, and as a Utahn, I think we’re going to be paying billions of dollars to the federal government regardless of what we do. I want some of that back to help people out, even though I’m a free market, limited government type of person,” Wilson says. “If we’re going to pay it to the federal government, I want to be able to use that in the state to the best way that we can.”   

Wilson is leaving the policy decisions to lawmakers, but he thinks they should come up with some method to bring federal tax dollars back into the state. Members of the state’s Medicaid community work group are still outlining the pros and cons of various options, and will present their findings to the Governor in September.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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