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Utah’s Medicaid Expansion To Cover Fewer People, Pending Federal Approval

Andrea Smardon

Utah health officials are now saying that a limited Medicaid expansion passed by the legislature this year will cover fewer people than anticipated. Meanwhile, it’s not clear whether the federal government will even approve the plan.

During the legislative session, Utah House Majority leader Jim Dunnigan said his bill was designed to help those most in need. The groups newly eligible for coverage would include parents living in poverty, adults who are chronically homeless, those involved in the justice system, or those in need of substance abuse or mental health treatment.

When lawmakers passed the legislation, they estimated it would cover about 16,000 Utahns, but after a more thorough analysis, state health officials determined that the medical needs of this population are more expensive than anticipated. Now they’re saying 9,000 to 11,000 would be covered. House Minority Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck said an inadequate plan just got worse. 

“I mean it was a small number from the get-go. And we were all – a number of us – were very concerned about that, and now it’s manifesting itself that even fewer individuals are going to be covered,” Chavez-Houck said.  

Governor Gary Herbert also expressed disappointment at his monthly press conference at KUED.

“The estimates were higher and now their lower and that’s probably not good, but it is a starting place. We’ve always said that this principle here is let’s find a place to start and start covering more people as we can afford to do it.”

Before this proposal can be implemented, the federal government has to approve a waiver. Officials from the Utah Department of Health say the feds have never approved a Medicaid program that’s based on social determinants like homelessness. Federal officials have not said whether they would approve Utah’s plan. Representative Chavez-Houck said she’s concerned that serving fewer people will hurt Utah’s chances. A public comment period on the draft proposal is open until June 8th.

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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