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Utah House Passes a Limited Medicaid Expansion Bill

Andrea Smardon
Utah House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan presents HB437 on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives. (March 4th, 2016)

The state House of Representatives has approved a billthat would provide Medicaid benefits to a limited number of Utahns in poverty. Most House Republicans supported the measure, but Democrats were conflicted.

The bill’s sponsor House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan said his plan would provide a hand-up to the most needy. That includes the chronically homeless, those involved in the criminal justice system, and those with behavioral health needs, an estimated 16,300 people. Several Democrats said this was a disappointing choice, compared with a full Medicaid expansion which would provide coverage to more Utahns and leverage more federal dollars.

“I rise in conflict with this bill,” said Representative Sandra Hollins, a social worker in Salt Lake City. “Do I vote yes, and support the 16,000-plus who will be covered? Or do I stand with the 94,000-plus people who we’re leaving behind?”

Republicans who had previously been opposed to any form of Medicaid expansion said they were swayed by this proposal. Representative Jake Anderegg of Lehi said the bill limits spending, protecting the state from financial commitments it can’t keep.

“It may not be everything everybody would want, but this is a good, first measured step that does provide us the options that we need to make sure we are within our constraints,” Anderegg said.

Republican supporters pointed out that this bill has nothing to do with Obamacare. In fact, it’s a step they could have taken even before the Affordable Care Act. It passed 55 to 17, and now heads to the Senate.

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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