Davis: Where There is a Will, There is a Way – Full Medicaid Expansion Advances to Senate Floor

Senator Gene Davis (Democrat - Salt Lake City)
Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City)

A bill proposing full Medicaid expansion cleared its first hurdle Tuesday in what will most likely be a very difficult gauntlet.

SB 77 – Medicaid Expansion Proposal, sponsored by Senator Gene Davis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), was passed out of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee on a 5-1 vote.

The bill requires the Utah Department of Health to amend the state’s Medicaid plan to expand Medicaid eligibility to the optional populations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare). In addition, SB 77 repeals a provision requiring the governor to comply with certain requirements before expanding Medicaid. Also included is the provision that Medicaid expansion will be repealed if federal funding decreases from the Affordable Care Act’s funding rates.

Also included is the provision that Medicaid expansion will be repealed if federal funding decreases from the Affordable Care Act’s funding rates.

Calling it one of the most important bills this legislative session, Davis said that the state has lost $624 million since January 1, 2014 and full Medicaid expansion is the most fiscally sound way to go. The bill would cost the state $50 million annually, however $575 million would come back to Utah by 2022, according to Davis.

Paul Gibbs, a member of the LDS Dems Caucus’ executive committee, said people have died while the debate about Medicaid expansion has raged on and many more are suffering. “This is desperately needed. This is the right thing to do,” said Gibbs. “I can tell you the state of Utah has unequivocally, objectively broken its promise to be a family-friendly state.”

Evelyn Everton, director of the Utah chapter of Americans for Prosperity, urged lawmakers to opt out of Medicaid expansion. “The reality is that Utahns can’t afford to expand Medicaid. There’s just no magic formula for making this troubled federal program balanced. We’ve seen programs like Arches collapse under the weight of not being able to continue these services without the funding they were promised. It’s definitely not going to help Utah’s health care costs for all Utah families as well.”

The Right Reverend Scott Hayashi, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, said the time for action is right now, not down the road. “We have waited for three years for conversations to take place and we have heard things such as ‘Well, let’s see what the Supreme Court does.’ The Supreme Court ruled, keeping the Affordable Care Act. The latest thing I’ve heard is ‘Let’s wait for the next president.’ While we’re waiting for all these people, all these things to happen, more and more people of Utah are simply dying. I think that is a disgrace.”

Senator Daniel Thatcher (Republican – West Valley City) has concerns about the bill, but believes it should go forward in the process. “I don’t think we can have a third year pass where we do nothing. I can’t promise that I can support this on the floor, and even if we do [pass the bill] I don’t know where we’re going to come up with the money in a year where we’ve got a budget shortfall in the General Fund. But I do think that we need to continue the discussion on this. I do believe that we need to continue moving forward.”

Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) also has concerns, but chose to vote the bill out so the discussion can proceed. “I think this is an important conversation. I will not be able to vote on it on the floor unless there are some other boundaries so that we don’t have an open-ended exposure like this.” Senator Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George) made a similar statement.

Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard (Republican – Logan), the sole dissenting vote, worries about controlling costs. “I guess my concern is I’ve talked to legislators in other states who have adopted this full program. The general statement I get from those who will seriously talk to me about it is ‘Be very careful, because it explodes.’ You know, you project what the costs are going to be and the benefits are going to be and then, lo and behold, instead of having 50,000 people sign up it’s 150,000.”

The proposal, one of many this session, is expected to face an uphill battle going forward. “If there’s a will, there’s a way to do it. That’s what we lack in the state Legislature right now, I believe, is the will to move forward to try to take care of 110,000 individuals who would be eligible,” said Davis.

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