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Speaker Hughes Says Utah’s Medicaid Deal Will Require Compromise from the Feds

Andrea Smardon
House Speaker Greg Hughes (R-51) in his office at the Utah Capitol. (Jan. 26, 2015)

Republican state lawmakers have committed to come up with an agreement to close the health insurance coverage gap for the poor in Utah this year. But House Speaker Greg Hughes says a deal on Medicaid expansion rides on the Obama administration’s willingness to compromise. 

Reflecting back on this year’s legislative session, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes says he’s proud of the progress made on big issues like religious liberties and anti-discrimination, transportation funding, and criminal justice reform. Issues, he says which required lawmakers to work together and make tough compromises, but there was one major issue left unresolved.

“Medicaid expansion became the outlier in this session where we could not get to that common ground,” Hughes says.

The Governor’s plan to extend health insurance to those up to 138 percent of the poverty level never gained enough support by House Republicans during the session. A proposal by the House to provide limited coverage to fewer people did not have support in the Senate. Hughes has committed along with the Governor and other legislative leaders to find a solution by the end of July this year. But Hughes says the critical partner in reaching a deal is the federal government.

“We think it’s important if the state of Utah is going to expand into this space and really start a new federal entitlement program, where we’re providing this healthcare for more people, the state has to know what it’s getting into with some reason,” Hughes says. He wants a cap on the costs to the state of an expanded Medicaid program, or a limit to the number of people served. Hughes says to come to a deal, he needs certainty.

“If we get it wrong, if the population that we’re going to provide this healthcare for is much bigger than we’re budgeting for, or the cost of the healthcare is much more, what in a state where you balance the budget are you willing to give up? You’ve got to get these things right, because when you don’t someone or something suffers from that, because you’ve got to balance the budget,” he says.  

This kind of cap would require approval from the Obama administration, which Hughes says they have so far not been willing to give. But Hughes believes the feds might be willing to compromise… if they want to count Utah as one of the states that expands Medicaid.

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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