Legislation that is, in essence, seeking to implement Governor Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah proposal was given a favorable nod by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday.
Sponsored by Senator Brian Shiozawa (Republican – Salt Lake City), SB 164 – Access to Health Care Amendments passed out on a 4-1 vote. Senator Evan Vickers (Republican – Cedar City), who is the chair of the committee, was the only “no” vote.
Under the bill, Medicaid would be expanded to cover Utahns who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level – those caught in the so called “doughnut hole” who earn too much to be able to apply for federal health insurance, but not enough to access private health care.
Shiozawa, a ER doctor, told the committee that American health care costs are out of control and Healthy Utah is the best plan to help deal with the insurance coverage gap. “Right now, our system is not affordable. It is unsustainable and I predict with certainty that it’s only going to get worse.”
Billy Hesterman, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, cautioned the committee against moving forward on the bill before having more discussion on the matter. “I realize that this is not a new proposal. It has had plenty of vetting. But we believe that much of the discussion around this plan has focused on the millions of federal taxpayer dollars that may come back to the state through its implementation. We feel that’s not enough public dialogue that there has been about the burden of this program that will be on the state budget.”
Former Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell, president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association, believes that Healthy Utah makes the most sense out of all the proposals and urged lawmakers to pass SB 164.
“These folks don’t want to make $10,000 a year. They want to enjoy the American dream. They’re not living there because it’s fun and because they get all kinds of goodies. They’re struggling to make it work. And they can’t live without medical care,” said Bell.
“If not us, then who? It will be us. If not when, it should be now. These people are citizens. We need to reach out. We need to remember who they are and give them the dignity and the same kind of care that we all want and regard as part of our quality of life.”
There has been much controversy over Healthy Utah this legislative session as citizens press for a final answer three years after the passage of Obamacare. Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – North Ogden) is proposing an alternative plan that would cover only the “medically frail” – people who earn up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
Shiozawa noted some concerns that he has with Christensen’s proposal. “It incentivises [patients] to actually be more frail or sicker,” Shiozawa told the committee.
“We don’t even have a precise definition of what it means to be “medically frail” and I can tell you that if this particular bill passes this will be a point of contention for sessions to come.”
While Healthy Utah would cost more than Christensen’s plan, it would bring in far more federal money for the state and more people could be helped as well.
Utah would get an estimated $3.2 billion back in the first five years with Healthy Utah, while Christensen’s plan would only bring about $300 million to $330 million.
More citizens would also be covered under Shiozawa’s Healthy Utah plan, with approximately 95,000 people would qualify for Medicaid compared to Christensen’s “Frail Utah” plan, where approximately 10,000 would be covered.