On Wednesday Governor Gary Herbert (Republican) reported to the media about his recent trip to Washington, D.C. and meetings with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Utah has been pursuing a special deal to receive a block grant allowing the state to use federal tax dollars in a way that uniquely suits the state’s own health care marketplace.
Included in Herbert’s envoy was Utah’s Department of Health Executive Director, David Patton, who has been involved in the ongoing discussions in the nation’s capitol, to offer technical explanations.
In addition to indicating that the White House has been largely agreeable and generous with the terms of the deal, including 100 percent of funds returned to Utah for the first year’s effort, with a sliding scale of participation after that.
The Governor’s pitch for a “Healthy Utah” plan is designed to cover those whose income is too high for complete Medicaid coverage, but too low to access traditional medical insurance policies. Commonly known as the “Medicaid Gap,” Herbert hopes that the Utah plan could become a model for other state’s and was described as a “three-year, pilot program” that will allow for changes and “fine tuning” along the way.
Addressing those who believe that participating in “Obamacare” will add to the nation’s debt burden, Governor Herbert assured critics that there is no net gain in spending that would not otherwise have been budgeted. The Governor simply identifies the Utah plan as an opportunity to obtain tax dollars that Utahns have already paid the U.S. government in taxes and use these dollars without the onerous “strings” and “red tape” that can cut into inefficient spending.
The details within the entire effort will not be finalized until late summer and will require the Governor to call a special legislative session of the legislature for it’s final approval.
Lawmakers, for their part, are skeptical on the plan, and resistance is expected prior to the start of any special session. Aside from ideological opposition to health care expansion, a special session will, most likely, take place just months before the November election.