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Senate Passes Partial Medicaid Expansion

Brian Grimmett
The floor of the Utah Senate

The Utah Senate has approved a plan to partially expand Utah’s Medicaid program, but not before amending it to make it more compatible with Governor Gary Herbert’s expansion proposal.

Republican Sen. Brian Shiozawa’s SB251 would use federal Medicaid dollars to help those who fall under the federal poverty level and don’t already qualify for Medicaid to purchase private health plans. In order to use Medicaid money this way, the state would need to obtain a waiver from the federal government. But if that fails, the bill gives support to the Governor’s plan to get federal money for the equivalent of a full Medicaid expansion in the form of a no-strings-attached block grant. Shiozawa says Utahns will benefit no matter which plan eventually happens.

“Either way it’s a win for Utah because we leverage back those federal tax dollars to Utah and then we can take those moneys and use them appropriately in caring for the Utah patient,” he says.

But House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart says the House doesn’t have any plans to even take up SB251 for debate. That means that the Legislature won’t likely come to a conclusion on what to do for those people who fall in the coverage gap before the session comes to and end on Thursday night. While those people continue to go without insurance, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser says there is no deadline to make a decision about Medicaid.

“We’re making a decision right now that’s going to be a long-term decision," Niederhauser says. "This is something that’s going to be with us for many years to come. So, if we take a few more months or even another year to make that decision, as long as we get it right in the end, I think that’s the important thing.”

Even if the legislature does not make a decision on Medicaid, Governor Herbert still plans on moving forward with his negotiations with the Obama administration. If the federal government approves his plan, he would need to call the legislature into special session to get their approval before it could take affect. 

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