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Senate Gives Preliminary Approval To Controversial Medicaid Bill, Vote Expected Later This Week

Photo of Utah Capitol.
Austen Diamond for KUER

A proposal to scale back the voter-approved Medicaid expansion measure is sailing through the first week of the legislative session, receiving first approval by the full Senate Wednesday morning.

Senate Republicans are pitching the bill as a more fiscally responsible way to expand Medicaid. They want to move quickly on the issue in order to get federal approval by April 1, the date Proposition 3 is slated to take effect, said Senate Pres. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

“The timing on the waivers requires that we move somewhat expeditiously,” he said.

No waivers are required for Proposition 3 to take effect.

Under the plan proposed by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, the state would cover fewer people at an initially higher cost. His plan would require two separate waivers from the federal agency which oversees Medicaid.

One waiver would cap the number of people who could enroll in the low-income health care program up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level — about $12,000 for a single person and $25,000 for a family of four. The federal government would cover 70 percent of the cost while the state would pick up the rest.

The second waiver would then ask the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to eventually increase its portion of the expansion to 90 percent, thereby reducing overall costs to the state.

Christensen said if his bill passes, he “has confidence” that CMS will approve both waivers “in a timely manner.”

Those who fall into what’s known as the coverage gap, between 100 to 138 percent of the poverty level, would be placed onto insurance exchanges with subsidized co-pays, according to Christensen.

Proposition 3 expands access for people up to 138 percent of the poverty level at a cost of 90 percent to the federal government and 10 percent to the state.

Christensen’s bill won preliminary approval by the full Senate in a 22-7 vote and will likely be debated once more before the end of the week. Sen. Todd Weiler was the sole Republican who voted no, joining all six Senate Democrats.

Democrats say the proposal goes against the will of the 53 percent-majority of voters who approved Proposition 3 in November.

“The voters wanted Medicaid expansion without further delay and without compromising the future of the Medicaid program,” Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said on the Senate floor before voting against a motion to hear the bill in another debate.

Democrats also criticized moving the bill forward without a cost estimate, which had not been made public as of Wednesday afternoon.

KUER’s Julia Ritchey contributed to this report.

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