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Gov. on Healthcare Negotiations: “You Don’t Want to Tie My Hands”

Governor Gary Herbert

Time is running out for the Utah legislature to make a decision on what they want to do about health insurance for low-income Utahns.  There are several health reform proposals in the legislature that have yet to be approved, with only four working days left in the session. But at this point, the governor has the power to move forward with his plan, so long as lawmakers don’t stand in his way.

Utah health department director David Patton says the governor has the authority to move forward with federal negotiations with or without the legislature. But because of a state law passed last year, Herbert will ultimately need approval from the legislature to accept federal dollars for a Medicaid expansion or some alternative.

“It’s clear in the law that once a plan is in place or we have an idea what we’re doing, that comes back to the legislature for their approval. We’re very aware of that, and we want to keep them along all the way, so we’re not surprising them with something a week or two months down the road,” Patton says.  

The governor has said that he wants a block grant to provide subsidies for about 111,000 low-income Utah adults to buy health insurance on the private market. A block grant like that would require a federal waiver. Herbert says he is working to secure broad support from the legislature to negotiate with the federal government, and is hoping they don’t pass legislation that would restrict what he can do.

“I think we have an opportunity to negotiate and get waivers that we have not had before. I would suggest that you don’t know want to tie my hands, that it’s got to be exactly this and this and this without having any flexibility,” Herbert says . “That would probably inhibit our ability to get a good outcome.”

House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart has been critical of the governor’s plan, calling it Obamacare expansion by another name, but Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser says it’s hard for the legislature to come to a decision when there are still so many unknowns about what the federal government will support.

“A lot of it we don’t know because it will take a lot of waivers, we have no idea whether the federal government will agree to them. At least we feel like we ought to at least empower the governor to go back and work out some of those details and come back with what he’s discovered.”

Neiderhauser says there could very well be a special legislative session once the governor has negotiated a plan with the feds.

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