As the annual legislative session kicked off Monday, hundreds of Utahns descended on the state Capitol to protest two proposals that would alter or completely undo a voter initiative to expand Medicaid.
Chants of “No repeal!” and “Yes on 3!” rang out in the capitol rotunda as more than 400 people called for expanded access to the low-income health care program and warned lawmakers not to alter the voter-approved initiative known as Proposition 3.
“Certain legislators want to circumvent the democratic will of the people,” said Alan Ormsby, Utah Director for AARP.
The bills to roll back Proposition 3 are “rooted in fear” that the program will be too costly and that “the voters didn’t really understand what they were voting for,” Ormsby said.
“We really do understand what Utah decided. We really demand a clean Medicaid expansion,” he said to cheers.
The two proposals to repeal or scale back the initiative, which was approved by 53 percent of voters in November, will get their first public hearings in a committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
The first proposal, from Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, would undo all changes in Medicaid eligibility as set out in last November’s successful citizen ballot initiative.
The second bill would shrink the size of what voters wanted. It would create enrollment caps, which limit how many people could apply, create work requirements for some individuals who received insurance, and there would be no hard date for when expansion would happen, which is currently slated for April 1.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, sponsored the second bill. He says the 0.15 percent sales tax increase that voters passed to fund Medicaid expansion won’t be enough.
“I think it’s going to cost a whole lot more. And we need those safeguards in the Utah budget,” Christensen said.
Several left-leaning policy groups oppose Christensen’s bill, including the Utah Health Policy Project, Alliance for a Better Utah, and Utah Decides Healthcare, the group behind Proposition 3.
“It asks for things that opens the doors to applying for federal waivers which have never been approved and really just causes a lot of delay, while crossing out big chunks of Proposition 3,” said Stacy Stanford of the Utah Health Policy Project, a group that was heavily involved in the Medicaid initiative.
Advocates like Stanford worry that Christensen’s bill makes so many changes to the federally managed program that it could cause the federal government to deny Medicaid expansion in Utah altogether.
On Monday Christensen said even with his proposed changes there was a “99.5 percent chance” it would be approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the federal department that oversees the program.
If Medicaid is fully expanded in Utah, an estimated 150,000 more people could get insurance.