Utah Lawmakers May Repeal Voter Approved Medicaid Expansion

Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT).Screengrab/Republican Governors Association/YouTube

Republican lawmakers in Utah are trying to thwart or outright repeal a Medicaid expansion passed by the state's voters.

GOP lawmakers in Utah have proposed multiple bills that would repeal or hinder the expanded health care ballot measure for low-income residents.

Although Proposition 3, which would allow for a Medicaid expansion, was approved in November, Utah State Senator Allen Christensen’s (R) bill would prevent it from going into effect.

The Trump administration is reportedly exploring whether it can let states implement Medicaid block grants, which conservatives wish to use in order to limit spending. ThinkProgress asked Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) if he was interested in the idea. In reply, his office stated, "Governor Herbert supports meaningful changes to Medicaid that bring the program into alignment with state demographics and budget constraints.”

More, the bill would condition eligibility on reported work. Christensen said it "would mirror the state’s work requirement for food assistance." He said it was “a pretty weak requirement” and beneficiaries would just need to “think about going to work and you’ve accomplished it.”

“We are going to implement the expansion and we are going to do it in a financially responsible way,” said Christensen.

State Senator Jacob Anderegg’s (R) bill simply repeals the ballot measure. It "also repeals a partial medicaid expansion measure that was approved by lawmakers last year but later discarded when voters demanded full expansion."

Anderegg said, “I’ve done a fairly extensive head count and think that there are enough votes in the House and the Senate to pass it.”

In a statement, Utah Health Policy Project Executive Director Matt Slonaker said, “The first few pages of this new bill show that Senator Christensen’s plan strikes out huge swaths of Prop 3. This plan adds provisions that would indefinitely delay enrollment and risk legal challenge.”

Slonaker continued, “Utah voters are smart, they are informed, and they chose to support full Medicaid expansion without caps, red tape, or delays. These bills that would repeal Proposition 3 are harmful to Utahns and run contrary to the will of the people.”

Proposition 3 extends health insurance to over 150,000 people who make no more than 138% of the federal poverty level, or under $35,000 for a family with four people. At the time, Medicaid expansion received bipartisan support. The ballot won 59% of the House and Senate districts.

Medicaid expansion funding comes primarily from the federal government. While states can cover their portion of the funding in many ways, Utah decided to cover the added costs by increasing sale taxes of the state’s non-food items by 0.15 percentage points.

A January 2019 memo from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget said that there was a shortfall in the budget.

Joan Alker, the executive director of Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families, said, “It’s been one excuse after another for those who do not want to expand the Medicaid program.”

“It still remains the best investment a state can make. What other program can a state put up one dollar and get nine dollars back from the federal government? If you can make that kind of investment in your personal life, would you take it? I think you would,” she continued.

Various studies have shown state savings increase when more people can have insurance and get preventative care instead of going to the emergency room.

Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project, a group that supported states that expanded Medicaid by ballot, said: “Politicians are trampling on the most fundamental values of representative democracy. For months, Utahans discussed, debated, and learned about what Medicaid expansion would do for the state. Then, a clear majority of Utahans voted to expand health care to people struggling to make ends meet and bring tax dollars home from Washington. The voters have spoken. In any other job, if you disobeyed a direct order from your bosses you’d be fired the next day.”