Utah still undecided on Medicaid expansion

Posted at 10:04 PM, Dec 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-16 00:04:33-05

SALT LAKE CITY – Many low income Utahns are still waiting to find out what kind of health insurance options will be available to them in the new year.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has yet to decide whether or not to accept federal money for Medicaid expansion, and key state legislators spoke to FOX 13 News about how a Utah plan might look.

Twenty six states have opted to expand Medicaid in January while 22 states have said no. Two states are in the process of expanding. Utah alone remains undecided among the 51, which includes Washington D.C.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said the uncertainty is a concern.

“In the meantime, people aren't getting coverage, so I guess that's my major concern is if we moved forward with the full expansion we'd get people covered sooner rather than later, and we've just kicked the can down another few months or even as much as a year,” she said.

Most Utah Democrats and a few Republicans are in favor of accepting the federal funding and expanding Medicaid, but a committee is leaning toward something else. They are considering two options that would take the state and federal dollars in government-run Medicaid and use the funds to buy private health plans for low income Utahns.

Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, said they are working to come up with workable ideas for health care in Utah.

“It is incumbent on us to come up with proposals that we think are better,” Sanpei said. “Proposals that we think are sustainable and that we think will work... and I think that's what we're looking at.”

Some Democrats said the marketplace is great, once a person is physically and financially healthy enough to participate.

“I'd like to see people moving at some point towards a market-based option,” Chavez-Houck said. “But for a number of the people that are in crisis, and some of our low-income folks, they just need to get health care access now.”

If Utah elects to do nothing when it comes to the decision to expand Medicaid, the state will still be responsible for Medicaid in its current form for Utahns below the poverty level.