Head-slap moments are all too common in today’s political discourse, as lawmakers debate over issues they often have no more knowledge on than the general public. But we honestly cannot recall a moment… ever… that left a more permanent dent on our foreheads than after Representative Anderegg’s claim that Utahns don’t need health insurance.
In surprise move this week, Republican Representative Jake Anderegg (Lehi), substituted into play a bill that would block Utah from expanding the Medicaid insurance program to cover Utahns who are at 133% or less of the Federal Poverty Limit. In his rationale for such a move, Mr. Anderegg said that people can afford healthcare without insurance, illustrating his point by saying he once had a $10,000 medical bill that he paid off easily over time.
The current income qualification for Medicaid in Utah for low-income adults is 100% of the Federal Poverty Limit, meaning an individual cannot make more than $957.50 per month, or $11,490 per year.
Let’s pause and think about the math for a moment. Representative Anderegg is suggesting that someone who is making less than a thousand dollars a month should be able to afford to pay their own medical bills. It is by no means a stretch these days to say that a person who comes down with a serious illness, like cancer, could easily be facing up to a million dollar bill for treatment (or more). But let’s be generous and say that the hospital’s bills for treatment is only $500,000. Even if you were to spread out the payments over 20 years, the payments would still equate to roughly $2,083 per month, double the $957 per month income limit to qualify for Medicaid. Of course, if you don’t have insurance coverage, most hospitals will refuse to provide the treatment unless you pay the bill up front. And even if you do receive the treatments, heaven forbid that you need any additional medication, follow up treatments, or become sick ever again.
The Medicaid Expansion offered to states under the Affordable Care Act, would raise the maximum income level to 133% of the Federal Poverty Limit, so you could still qualify for the insurance program if you make less than $1,273 per month. 130,000 Utahns are in that bracket, who are not offered insurance through their jobs, and are desperate for care. The expansion would be paid for 100% (zero cost to Utah to cover 130k Utahns) for the first 3 years, after which Utah would slowly begin to pick up a maximum of 10% of the costs (90% would always be covered for us).
The fiscal analysts for the Legislature, their own expert economists, have told lawmakers that accepting the expansion would save the state about $6 million in the first year and nearly $16 million in the second year. In addition, those numbers do not take into account the millions of dollars citizens would save as we would no longer have to pay the costs of uninsured people visiting the emergency room without coverage or a way to pay the bills.
While we’re glad that Representative Anderegg, who lists his occupation on the legislature’s website as “sales manager,” was able to pay off his medical bill, it is absolutely inconceivable, and irrational, to expect those making less than a thousand dollars a month to take on additional bills just so they can stay alive.
On a related note, lawmakers, such as Representative Anderegg, and their families receive health insurance through the state, which is heavily subsidized and primarily paid for by the taxpayers. The coverage lasts as long as they remain in office, until they reach the 10 year mark, after which they get to keep their taxpayer-subsidized coverage for life.