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State Task Force Rejects Governor’s Healthy Utah Plan

Andrea Smardon
Republican Representatives Dean Sanpei and Jim Dunnigan confer after a Utah Health Reform Task Force meeting. (October 23, 2014)

Some influential Utah lawmakers delivered a blow Thursday to Governor Gary Herbert’s plan to expand health coverage to low-income Utahns. In a motion led by Republicans, the state Health Reform Task Force voted not to recommend the governor’s plan to the legislature. Instead, they recommended their own plan.

Republican Senator and Health Reform Task Force co-chair Allen Christensen says he’s drafted a bill that he acknowledges would not entirely solve the coverage gap problem.

“This is an attempt to provide services to the most needy with the dollars that are available,” Christensen says.  The bill would provide coverage to those under the poverty line, but only if they are considered medically frail. That would include those with a serious medical condition, a chronic substance use disorder, or a disabling mental disorder.

Christensen and others on the task force say they are concerned about future costs to the state if they expand Medicaid coverage to too many people. “There has to be a limit on the funding that we can put forward. We cannot provide everything for everyone,” he says.

After some debate, the task force voted 8 to 3 to recommend a plan that would cover the medically frail only, and not Governor Gary Herbert’s plan, which would have provided coverage to all those under 138 percent of the poverty level. Healthcare advocates were not pleased.

“It’s really just a band-aid over a gaping wound,” says Matt Slonaker, Executive Director of Utah Health Policy Project. “If you look around the room today, there’s a lot of conversations after this outcome of people that are upset about it. They don’t think this is a fair representation. If you look at polls that have been done around Healthy Utah and the Medicaid expansion, Utahns are in favor of some sort of coverage gap solution.”

The governor’s plan is still in play. How much sway the task force recommendation has in the legislature remains to be seen.

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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