Herbert’s End Run on Medicaid Expansion

(from left to right: Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, Nebraska Gov.-elect Pete Ricketts, Gov. Herbert, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and NGA Chair Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper)
(from left to right: Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, Nebraska Gov.-elect Pete Ricketts, Utah Gov. Herbert, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and NGA Chair Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper)

WASHINGTON D.C. — Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert spent the day in Washington, D.C. with the National Governor’s Association, delivering the State of the States address on the first day of the 114th Congress, and also with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. The governor relayed the main points he had made at each meeting in a press briefing while in the nation’s capitol.

While addressing the media, the Governor said that he made a strong case for the controversial “work requirement” aspect of his Healthy Utah plan for expanding Medicaid in the Beehive State, as he spent almost an hour with President Obama in the Oval Office.

In his leadership position with the Governor’s Association, Herbert has always maintained that the states are “the laboratories of democracy,” and as such should have the ability to be “equal partners” with the federal government, and not be considered “junior partners” when it comes to valuable efforts in experimentation and alternatives to federal government solutions to national problems. The effort to expand Medicaid in Utah has covered months of deliberations and exhaustive efforts by Utah’s Department of Health, a state task force of legislators, and Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which controls the federal dollars involved.

“While at the White House today, [Colorado Governor John] Hickenlooper and I met with the President and his staff and discussed matters of economics and trade, in addition to transportation and funding of critical infrastructure within Utah.” When asked about Medicaid expansion by reporters, Governor Herbert said he told the President that Utah had not been able to get the “work requirement” portion of his Healthy Utah plan past HHS, but that he felt it was an important concept to include.

Herbert stated that the President would have HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell “revisit” the concept, and because of his discussion in the Oval Office, in the Governor’s words, “that [work requirement] door’s not closed.” The concept has been discussed thoroughly in Utah by state policymakers, and is characterized as an additional benefit of the Medicaid program where the “able-bodied” would be required to work or to improve their work status to qualify for the benefit as administered by the state.

Herbert indicated that the talks with HHS would resume as early as “next week” now that he has presidential leverage available to push his Healthy Utah plan further toward the goal of returning more than $240 million of Utah taxpayer money to the state over the next three years. The effort has been characterized as a “three-year experiment” and has met with considerable controversy among lawmakers in the Beehive State.

On the control of public lands topic, the Governor did not indicate any further progress to achieve Utah’s goal of taking federally-controlled lands through discussions with Washington officials, with the exception of a meeting Herbert had with Air Force General Mark Welsh of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Briefly, the additional effort to obtain more acreage for the Bombing Test Training Range for Utah’s west desert in Tooele County is a concept that Utah’s Washington delegation has sought on several levels. Those discussions will be ongoing and may be included in Utah Republican Congressman Rob Bishop’s “Public Lands Initiative,” whereby lands would be set aside by statute, a concept endorsed by Herbert.

Though the Air Force is on board with the concept of additional lands for training more powerful aircraft stationed at Hill Air Force Base, there was no mention in the press conference of Bureau of Land Management negotiators being involved at this point.

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