The clock is ticking for the Utah Legislature, and many things remain unresolved. With the issues of Medicaid expansion hinging in the balance and only three days left in the session, the Senate heard one of two options being considered by the body. SB251, sponsored by Senator Brian Shiozawa (Republican – Cottonwood Heights), turns Utah’s Medicaid expansion plan into a block grant where the money would be used at the state level in a program called “Healthy Utah.”
The bill is reflective of Governor Herbert’s plan of $250 million for Medicaid expansion, opposing Speaker Becky Lockhart’s (Republican – Provo) plan to refuse most federal funding (accepting only $80 million) for Medicaid expansion, and is in favor of a Medicaid-like program that is funded at a higher rate by Utah taxpayers.
Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) failed in an attempt to amend the bill to fully accept federal medicaid monies, saying that it was sensible to accept the money. “It just provides full health care. No games,” said Davis.
Senator Daniel Thatcher (Republican – West Valley City), who voted in favor of the plan, called it the least favorite bill he’s voted for this session. “This is the best of the bad options before us,” said Thatcher.
In her daily meeting with the press, Lockhart pointed out that Governor Herbert does not need to consult with the legislature to negotiate with the White House, saying that Herbert has “full authority to negotiate with the Obama administration.” Lockhart indicated that the House did not intend on taking up the Senate’s Medicaid expansion bill.
Lockhart continued, saying that the Medicaid expansion plan was part of the ongoing negotiations regarding the state budget. Lockhart mentioned that part of the deal involved the defunding of her $300 million education plan in exchange for concessions from the Senate’s plan to fund Medicaid. “The House was trying to make history, the Senate was trying to make a deal,” said Lockhart.
The bill passed the Senate 19-6, and now heads to the House for consideration. If no Medicaid deal is reached, it is likely a special session will be called for in May to resolve the issue.