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GOP Lawmakers Still Resistant to Governor’s Healthy Utah Plan

Brian Grimmett

Governor Gary Herbert is still encountering resistance from fellow Republicans on his plan to provide health coverage to the poor. Utah Department of Health officials briefed a committee of state lawmakers Thursday on their negotiations in Washington. The Governor has said he is pleased with the outcome, but some conservative state lawmakers are still not sold on the plan to expand government assistance in Utah.

Utah Department of Health Director David Patton told the state’s Health Reform Task Force that he returns from Washington with positive news. Utah went into the negotiations wanting a work requirement for those who receive Medicaid benefits. The feds did not approve a “requirement” per se, but they did approve a plan for the state to provide assistance in work efforts for those who are able-bodied.

“I just really believe that we got what we were after,” Patton said. “Individuals who are going to get the benefit are also going to be engaged in a work effort.” But Republican representative Francis Gibson was not satisfied with this.

“I guess my frustration is we started at work requirement. That was what we wanted. We’ve settled on work effort,” Gibson said. “Maybe work thought would be next - just thinking about work would qualify us. It’s frustrating. We have to sell this to many, many people and many people will pay this and are paying for it.”

House Chair of the Task Force Jim Dunnigan says it’s not clear at this point how many of his colleagues will oppose the governor’s plan without the work requirement.

“For some legislators it is a deal breaker and for some it’s not a deal breaker, and I don’t have the exact count on that,” Dunnigan says.  He says the bigger concern for Republicans is whether to take on the long term financial responsibility of expanding Medicaid to cover an estimated 111,000 people. Dunnigan did not know whether lawmakers would hold a special session to discuss the issue as the governor suggested, or wait until the general legislative session next year.

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