SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers have begun kicking around a few proposals to expand Medicaid in the state — including pared-back plans favored by GOP leaders and more expansive ideas that mirror past proposals from Democrats and Utah’s governor.
Under President Barack Obama’s health care law, the federal government offers to pay at least 90 percent of the cost if states expand their Medicaid programs to help the poor. In Utah, that includes about 60,000 people who currently are ineligible for Medicaid or federal help paying for coverage.
State officials have weighed the offer for three years but have failed to agree on a plan, with Republicans in Utah’s House of Representatives citing fears that the state’s share of the cost could balloon and Washington may not follow through on its offer to pay for the program down the road.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said he thinks Utah’s Senate will get behind whatever plan the House passes.
Lawmakers have floated four plans this year but have not voted on any idea.
Here’s a look at the proposals:
— Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he’s working on a proposal that would cover about 16,000 people. The Deseret News reports that would include mostly childless adults who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness. It would also help some Utah’s poor who have mental illness or addictions. The plan would cost Utah about $20 to $30 million, while the federal government would kick in about $70 million. Dunnigan said Utah’s share could be paid for by an increased tax on hospitals. The Utah Hospital Association has said hospitals would benefit from expanding the program and are willing to help pay some of the cost.
— Another proposal from Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, would cover 125,000 people. Ward’s proposal is similar to one that Republican Gov. Gary Herbert proposed last year but House lawmakers later rejected. Participants would get private insurance and government subsidies to help pay their costs. The program would be open to those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $16,000 a year for an individual. Ward’s proposal would cost roughly $50 million a year. He’s proposed the cost be partially paid for with a tax on hospitals and a new 86.5 percent tax on e-cigarettes so they’re taxed like tobacco products.
— Salt Lake City Republican Sen. Brian Shiozawa, who has been one of the key Medicaid negotiators in the Utah Senate, has proposed a plan this year that’s similar to Ward’s but would cover fewer people. His plan would expand Medicaid up to the poverty line, which is about a $12,000 annual income for an individual. His plan hinges on the federal government offering to cover 90 percent of the cost, but the Obama administration has repeatedly said it won’t do so unless states cover everyone earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
—Sen. Gene Davis, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, has a proposal that calls on Utah to expand its traditional Medicaid program by simply opening it up to everyone earning 138 percent of the poverty level. It’s what the Obama administration has envisioned but is considered a nonstarter among most Republicans in Utah’s Legislature. It would cover 125,000 people and cost Utah about $51 million.