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House Republicans Work to Close “Coverage Gap” Without Expanding Medicaid

Brian Grimmett
Representative Jim Dunnigan

Republican state lawmakers have come up with a proposal to provide health insurance for those who fall below the poverty line, but it does not expand Medicaid in the state. Democrats say rejecting those federal dollars is irresponsible.

The proposal comes out of House leadership, and was presented in a Republican caucus on Tuesday this week. Representative Jim Dunnigan chairs the healthcare reform task force that has been examining the state’s options on Medicaid expansion for the past year. The proposal that he presented, however, does not come out of the recommendations of the task force. It is an altogether new proposal that Dunnigan hopes will be acceptable to lawmakers who do not trust the federal government.

“There are a lot of legislators that are leery from doing a more traditional federal government desired Medicaid expansion, when we have concerns that we don’t know if the federal government will live up to their end on the financing,” Dunnigan says.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart has said she does not want to accept any federal funds to expand Medicaid, but the proposal would still require some federal funding. It would extend the existing primary care network - which is a limited benefit plan that already exists in Utah, and is 70 percent funded by the federal government. The proposal also calls for some premium assistance for those who have an employer-based health plan. Dunnigan says he estimates it would cost the state about 30 million dollars a year.

Democrats called a press conference to criticize the proposal. Senator Jim Dabakis called it irresponsible, and said it ignored all of the work that stakeholders have put into the decision over the past year.

“Rejecting this money that we’ve already paid for, sending it back to Washington so they can give it to other state makes no sense whatsoever,” Dabakis said.

Democratic Senator Luz Robles serves on the social services appropriation committee and she doesn’t see how a proposal like this could be approved this legislative session. 

“I don’t see how they’re going to pass a whole bill with the amount of money that they’re needing to cover them. Even if they go through charity care, there needs to be some resources allocated,” Robles says.

Representative Jim Dunnigan says the Senate Republican caucus will discuss his proposal on Thursday. Senate leaders may come out with a different proposal.

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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