The 3 Most Interesting Items from the Governor’s Monthly Press Conference

Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R)
Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R)

On Thursday, Governor Gary Herbert held his monthly press conference, and a few things immediately stand out:

For the third consecutive month, the Governor is telling Utah’s most in need that they’ll be waiting for Medicaid expansion.

Herbert began the press conference by telling the assembled reporters that he wanted to give them an update on the Healthy Utah plan, a continuing staple of these meetings. This time around, the message was slightly different, as he indicated that the negotiations between the executive branch and the Department of Health and Human Services had concluded with a final, twenty-five page deal. Herbert noted that a copy of the plan would be ready for circulation within approximately three weeks, just after the November election. The governor stated that Utah’s Department of Health is taking that time to completely review the specifics and sign-off for the state before final publication.

Meanwhile, state representative Jim Dunnigan (Republican – Taylorsville), an insurance provider by day and power broker on the hill, said that he had developed another Medicaid expansion plan for the legislature to review. It is no secret that the conservative Utah legislature does not like spending Washington money – even if it originated as Utah tax dollars and would benefit Utahns who do not otherwise qualify for Medicaid. It is unclear how Dunnigan’s plan may challenge the governor’s Healthy Utah plan provisions but it is rumored that Dunnigan’s plan is only for those who are physically unable to work.

Regardless, Herbert’s plan amounts to recovering more than $218 million of “Utah’s money” for the working poor and physically infirm but it will not be accessed in this calendar year, absent any debate on or off of Arsenal Hill. Critics of Utah’s supermajority describe the delay as a contradiction to the GOP’s overall goal of recovering the money for local control.

Leaving $218 million with the federal government into 2015’s legislative session is what accountants call “opportunity cost.” The Feds get to keep Utah’s money at least into the first quarter of 2015 and those Utahns in the “coverage gap” have to postpone care that could save their lives by providing critical treatment options. Governor Herbert said he would not call a special session for the legislature to debate the merits of any plan, implying that legislators are too busy politicking for the November 4 election tally.

Utah’s top executive doesn’t want to discuss increasing the state’s minimum wage.

After the conference, Governor Herbert said that if there are Utahns who are “underemployed,” it’s strictly a matter of education, not changing the state’s minimum wage to assist those who are working two and sometimes three jobs to sustain their Utah household. This is important because Herbert’s push to promote the Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion has the built-in work requirement for those Utahns who would be covered. Healthy Utah will apply the work requirement for those who are “able-bodied” but not earning enough money to otherwise pay for full health insurance benefits. Those Utahns can access the program by agreeing to look for employment or for a better paying job than the one(s) they may already have. The earliest the subject would be available to be discussed by the Utah legislature would then be January 19, 2015.

Utah National Guard’s “fully automatic bikini-gate” 

Governor Herbert said that he was leaving the investigation under the purview of Utah National Guard Adjutant General Jefferson Burton. The matter became a state government controversy when it was reported that British bikini-clad models were using Utah armory in a photo calendar and YouTube promo. Herbert said that he thought that his press secretary, Marty Carpenter, had reviewed the footage and Carpenter quipped, “Yeah, I immediately fell on that grenade.” The extent of Carpenter’s injuries were not readily apparent.

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