State lawmakers discuss governor’s ‘Healthy Utah’ plan

Posted at 9:45 PM, Apr 16, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-17 12:04:03-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Obama Administration reportedly gave Governor Gary Herbert preliminary approval on his plan to provide health care coverage to uninsured Utahns.

However, the governor's bigger hurdle may be with the Utah legislature. It will take a special session from the Utah Legislature to approve the Governor's plan, and scoring the support from the State House of Representatives will be challenging.

Governor Herbert was in good spirits after a trip to Washington D.C., where the feds gave his "Healthy Utah Plan" to cover tens of thousands of uninsured Utahns an initial OK.

"This will be a work in progress,” Herbert said during a press briefing. “We don't have all the answers because we don't know all the questions, but I'm confident this is going to be a better approach for the Utah citizens and taxpayers than just Medicaid expansion.”

Herbert said his plan is unique. He wants uninsured Utahns who need coverage to pay a premium of up to 2 percent of their income along with co-payments, and then he wants them to either be working, training for work, or actively look for a job. While the feds may be sold on his plan, the Utah House is not.

"The plan he presented in this session needs some work; It's not a done deal," said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, a Republican lawmaker who works in the health insurance industry.

Dunnigan said expanding coverage is more complicated than we think. He said if the federal government bails on the Affordable Care Act, Utah will be forced to foot a $40 million bill annually.

"When I started in the legislature, Medicaid accounted for 10 percent of the state's budget, now it accounts for 20 percent, so we have to be careful if we go forward, it has to be sustainable," Dunnigan told FOX 13 News.

"I think this is a great opportunity for the state of Utah," said Utah Senator Brian Shiozawa, who is a physician.

The Republican senator on board with the governor's Healthy Utah proposal is optimistic lawmakers will compromise during a special session this summer.

"This is a big deal, and I think the people of the legislature have their heads right and hearts right on this issue,” Shiozawa said.

Dunnigan said he hopes to find solutions.

"It does tug at my heart strings," he said. "I've had people in here that are trying to do the very best they can to take care of themselves and some of them have some physical challenges, others mental and substance abuse issues, they don't make enough to qualify for subsidies and bless their hearts they're trying to find a way forward to take care of their medical needs, so I'm hopeful that we can find a solution."

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, who has publicly criticized the Governor's plan, released a statement to FOX 13 News saying, "It is my understanding that the Governor is asking for full expansion so I am not surprised the Obama Administration is on board with that. It's too early to talk about a special session."

The Governor hopes to have an approved plan ready to submit to the legislature by the end of the summer.