The Utah Senate voted Tuesday to expand the state’s Medicaid program, but only to cover a small population living in extreme poverty.
The legislation, originally sponsored by House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan would cover a little more than sixteen thousand Utahns, including some who are chronically homeless and involved in the criminal justice system. The debate was quick but heated. Democratic Senator Gene Davis said the legislation ignored thousands of Utahns in the coverage gap.
“I’m a no on this because this is fiscal insanity. This is just trying to have control over people who need help, but leaving a whole lot of people without the coverage or benefits that they could have,” said Davis.
The legislation, now approved by both the House and the Senate, represents what could be the end of fight over Medicaid expansion that has lasted several years. Last year, Republicans in the House voted down Governor Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan that would have covered a large portion of Utahns that didn’t qualify for Medicaid, but couldn’t afford health insurance. Republican Senator Todd Weiler supported the Healthy Utah plan in last year’s session and supported this measure even though he believes it’s incomplete.
“This is probably not my first or second or third choice of how to do this, but I think it would be irresponsible to leave those people out in the cold for another year while we fight about this, so I vote aye,” said Weiler.
Senator Gene Davis is sponsoring a bill that would fully expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But the session will likely end on Thursday before lawmakers can vote on that legislation. Meanwhile, Dunnigan’s HB 437 now needs only the Governor’s signature to become law.