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Utah GOP Leaders “Start Over” on Medicaid Plan

Utah Governor's Office
Utah Republicans House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, Governor Gary Herbert, House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senator Brian Shiozawa meet with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Republican legislative leaders said they were optimistic Wednesday after leaving a meeting in Washington with federal officials, but they say they’re starting over to find an agreement on Medicaid.

Governor Gary Herbert has already spent a year negotiating his Medicaid expansion alternative known as Healthy Utah with the feds, but he says he’s willing to give that up for an agreement supported by his Republican colleagues in the legislature.

“We have agreed to start over and see if we can’t build a program that we all can support,” Herbert says.  

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and other legislative leaders accompanied Herbert on a meeting with US Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and her staff this week. Hughes says Burwell listened to their concerns about the risks to the state budget posed by expanding Medicaid, when it’s not clear how many people will sign up or how that will grow over time.

“We talked about how you reduce the risk,” Hughes says. “There’s all kinds of risk involved in a generational decision like this, and how can we work together to be as close to safe harbors when you make a decision like this as possible.”

Hughes says they’re now working with the feds to find ways the state can more accurately project the costs of expanding Medicaid. The working group of six Republicans plans to continue meeting in private to hash out a plan. But they’re under fire from progressive advocates like Josh Kanter, board president of Alliance for a Better UTAH, who says the governor’s Healthy Utah Plan already has widespread public support.

“The governor has presented a plan, and anything that waters that down or negotiates away from that outside of the public view is essentially shielding the legislature from accountability to their constituents,” Kanter says.

Governor Herbert says the group is on track to meet a self-imposed deadline at the end of July to present a proposal to the full state legislature for consideration, at which time, he says the public will have an opportunity to weigh in.

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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