Utah Governor Gary Herbert left a meeting with cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell to announce that he had NOT reached a completely final agreement regarding the expansion of Medicaid in Utah but that he viewed a completely new and final deal as only two to three weeks away.
When asked if he sees today’s discussions as a concession by the federal government, Herbert replied “Yes. We have convinced [HHS negotiators] that this is a three-year, pilot program with maximum flexibility. It is one that has not been done or offered to any other state in the union. It is unique to Healthy Utah and has not happened anywhere else.”
Reporters sought to clarify what Herbert and others had characterized as the main sticking point in his efforts on the matter. He was asked if there would be a work requirement as opposed to an effort to find work while covered in the Medicaid provisions of the new Healthy Utah plan. The Governor stated that it was a “work effort” opportunity that would be “integrated” into the Healthy Utah plan that would then cover more than 111,000 people currently not eligible for Medicaid due to their income status that disqualifies them. Herbert said that it would not add to the cost of providing these benefits to Utah taxpayers.
“It will yield better health care and better outcomes,” Herbert stated. The Governor’s description seemed to “integrate” capabilities by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services and the Healthy Utah plan. It seeks to “improve opportunities” for those involved to “better their circumstance,” especially for the non-employed or underemployed in Utah according to the Governor.
“I want to be very clear on this,“ said Herbert, “because there’s been a lot of speculation and a lot of misinformation about this but we can’t just speculate anymore. We convinced [our federal partners] that this will be a three-year pilot program. At the end of the day, this will be a benefit to the ‘working poor,’ who will have access to good, quality programs. It will be a win-win-win all the way around.”
The greatest challenge may lie ahead when the Governor and Dr. W. David Patton, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Health, return to Utah to get the deal passed through the legislature. “There were 35 different issues that we covered in our negotiations,” said Herbert, “…25 to 26 of them have been agreed upon. There are a few more components left to finalize but 95% of what we’ve asked for we’re getting.” The governor indicated that all of the other programs currently benefiting Utah’s underprivileged will remain intact. “All of these benefits including healthcare to the disabled and the medically frail will be incorporated in the Healthy Utah approach.”
Herbert told reporters that the road ahead includes acknowledging that “the devil’s in the details …and involves legal staff and policy people on both sides who will arrive at the final agreement.” Several Utah legislators have publically expressed their unwillingness to approve such a plan, even with the concessions by the federal government that Herbert described today.