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Utah Lawmakers Put Off Healthcare Decisions for Low Income Citizens

Andrea Smardon
Utah Department of Health officials brief the legislature's Health Reform Task Force on Governor Gary Herbert's efforts to negotiate federal approval of his Healthy Utah Plan, an alternative to Medicaid expansion.

Utah’s Republican lawmakers say they’re not ready to make any decisions about Medicaid expansion or the governor’s alternative plan. That means over 110,000 low income Utahns will likely be waiting at least until next year before they know what their health insurance options may be.

At a GOP caucus this week, Republicans legislators determined that they don’t all agree when it comes to Medicaid and healthcare reform.

“There are a lot of different opinions existing within the Senate, and there is no real consensus,” says state Senator Allen Christensen, who is Chair of the Health Reform Task Force. House Republicans also said there were differing opinions. Governor Gary Herbert has said he wants to call a special legislative session once he is able to come to an agreement with the federal government over his alternative plan to Medicaid expansion. Christensen says lawmakers are not ready for that.

“The only vote that we really took was, we’re encouraging the governor not to call a special session until we can reach some kind of consensus so it doesn’t just waste our time and the public’s money,” Christensen says. He says the legislature will likely take up the issue during next year’s regular session.

Utah Democratic Party Chair Peter Corroon released a statement saying, “Utah needs leaders. 140,000 working Utah families are without health insurance, waiting in limbo while our state legislature dithers, dallies, and plays partisan games.”

Governor Gary Herbert remains optimistic that the legislature will support his plan eventually.

“I believe at the end of the day, common sense will prevail. We’re providing a common sense solution to a very difficult issue. I believe we will end up coming together on this and getting a good outcome,” Herbert says.

Herbert’s plan would use Medicaid dollars to help low income Utahns buy insurance on the private market. Some Republican lawmakers have insisted that the plan should include work requirements and greater cost sharing by patients. If the plan is approved by the federal government, the state legislature would then decide whether to approve the funding.

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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