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Utah Lawmakers' Plan To Expand Medicaid Denied By Trump Administration: Report

Photo of capitol facade.
Brian Albers / KUER

Updated 2:30 p.m. MDT 7/27/19 


The Utah Legislature’s partial Medicaid expansion plan has been blocked by the Trump administration, state officials confirmed Saturday.

State officials learned late Friday from the White House that its most recent Medicaid waiver request would not be approved, according to a joint statement issued Saturday by Gov. Gary Herbert, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson. The latest request had not been submitted formally.


"While we are deeply disappointed by this latest development, we would like to reassure Utahns currently relying on Medicaid under the new expansion that they are still covered under the expansion that was activated on April 1, 2019," the three government leaders said in the statement.


Lawmakers passed S.B. 96, which modified the voter-approved Proposition 3, and had started the expansion in April. The state officials said in the statement that they had contemplated this scenario, and that the law "ensures the program moves forward as we navigate the complicated federal rules and regulations involved in Medicaid." 


The Legislature’s limited Medicaid expansion currently covers 70,000 – 90,000 low-income people. As written, the program would revert to a more generous alternative, similar to what voters approved with Proposition 3, which would expand coverage to an estimated 150,000 individuals.


Enacting the fallback plan was written into S.B. 96, the limited Medicaid expansion law that the Utah Legislature passed during the last legislative session. The law funds medical coverage through June 30, 2020, according to the statement.


"We will continue to work closely with the Administration to ensure that Medicaid expansion is carried out in a way that provides coverage for Utahns in need without creating an unsustainable financial burden on Utah taxpayers," state officials said. 


The governor and the two top lawmakers also said they will work together to make sure Utahns have a financially stable Medicaid program that will last.


Utah is not alone. The Washington Post reported late Friday that senior officials in the Trump administration have said they will not approve a request for Utah and other states to partially expand Medicaid to a number of people that’s smaller than what is required under the Affordable Care Act, while also getting maximum dollars from the federal government.


Health care advocates in Utah were quick to respond.


“It’s time to implement Proposition 3 as approved by Utah voters and as directed by SB96,” wrote Matt Slonaker with the Utah Health Policy Project.


A representative from the Utah Department of Health declined to comment on the Post’s reporting or the response from the federal government.


In an ironic twist, the federal government may deny Utah’s request because the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, which allows states to expand Medicaid coverage, is currently being challenged in court, according to the Post. 


That lawsuit is being brought by a group of 20 state attorneys general, including Utah’s Sean Reyes. The group argues that without the mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance, the whole health law is unconstitutional.


It’s unclear which could happen first: Utah enacting full Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act or the full repeal of the ACA, which would revoke that newly expanded health coverage.


Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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