Gov. Herbert proposes ‘Utah solution’ to Medicaid expansion

Posted at 2:34 PM, Feb 27, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-27 23:41:54-05

SALT LAKE CITY – Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he believes expanding Medicaid in Utah is not ideal, and he plans to seek a block grant and a state waiver in order to create a program designed to help Utahns in need of health insurance.

“I’m convinced today the best pathway forward for Utah is not to expand the federal Medicaid program,” Herbert said, and then added he wants to create a program accomplishing the same goals with money originally intended for Medicaid.

He calls the plan, "Healthy Utah."

The program would help Utahns who make less than $15,500 or less as a single person. The state would take $258 million dollars from the federal government and use it to support health insurance premium payments for low-income Utahns. Herbert said he hopes the program can be funded with a block grant, which are lump sums of money passed from federal to state governments to accomplish a specific goal.

Such a program would have to be approved by the Obama administration, but the governor said he has had conversations with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and he thinks they will be "receptive" to the plan.

But before the Obama administration weighs in, the governor faces what may be a far more difficult hurdle: the Speaker of the State House of Representative, Rebecca Lockhart.

Upon hearing the Governor's plan, the speaker continued to express opposition to any program that brings money from the Affordable Care Act to Utah.

The pilot program would run for three years as it is evaluated by the Department of Health.

Herbert said the program will be more simple for patients than Medicaid is.

FOX 13 News' Caroline Connolly spoke with several Utahns who fall into what is called the "Medicaid gap," click here for those interviews.

FOX 13 News Max Roth was tweeting live from the press conference. Click here to follow him on Twitterand find his tweets. Tune in to FOX 13 News at 4, 5, and 9 p.m. for more on this story as it develops.

Earlier this week, debate over how to provide coverage for the Utahns who cannot afford it led to varying solutions from lawmakers.