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No Money in State Budget to Fund GOP Alternative to Medicaid Expansion

Brian Grimmett/KUER file photo

A Republican proposal to provide health coverage for those under the poverty line has advanced to the House floor for consideration, but lawmakers in charge of the budget say there is no money for it at this point, and time is running out to accept any new requests.

The House Republican proposal aims to provide some limited health coverage to an estimated 54,000 Utahns under the poverty line without expanding the Medicaid program. Republican Dean Sanpei explained to the House Business and Labor Committee this week that the program may not cover everyone who falls in the coverage gap. That depends on how much money the state is willing to spend.

“The premise we’re starting with here is how much dollars do we have, how much can we appropriate as a state? Then we’re going to work to that amount, and live within that amount,” Sanpei said.

Democrat Mark Wheatley interrupted, “The question is how many dollars do we have to pay for this program?”

“That will be a question that we’ll have in the ongoing appropriations process,” Sanpei replied.  

The bill’s sponsor Representative Jim Dunnigan has estimated that it could take about 30 million dollars per year of state money to cover everyone in the coverage gap at a minimal level.

“We really haven’t set aside any money for any of these options, because we’re just still trying to get some of the basic requests covered,” says Lyle Hillyard, Senate Chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee. “It’s not going to be easy thing to find funding for any of those things, so the quicker they get to a decision, the easier it will be for us to do before the budget becomes set in concrete.” 

The deadline for lawmakers to prioritize fiscal note bills and identify other programs for new funding is Friday. Governor Gary Herbert told KUER that he will announce his own proposal to help those who don’t have access to health insurance by the end of this week.

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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