House unveils its Medicaid expansion plan

Posted at 11:10 AM, Mar 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-03 23:11:01-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- House Republican leaders unveiled their version of a Medicaid expansion plan on Tuesday, offering an alternative to the governor and Senate's "Healthy Utah" plan.

House Bill 446, sponsored by House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, would offer primary care coverage to people 100 percent below poverty level. The bill also said it would provide some level of Medicaid coverage to adults with dependent children (and some without).

The bill would also "provide financial sustainability for the waiver by permitting the state to adjust the percentage of poverty level covered, either up or down, based on program costs and the state budget; and instructs the Department of Health to continue negotiations with the federal government to obtain greater flexibility for any future Medicaid expansion."

The Senate passed a version of Medicaid expansion, SB164, dubbed "Healthy Utah" by the governor. But House Speaker Greg Hughes has said there is not enough votes for that to pass in the House, so it would not be debated in committee.

On Tuesday, the House reversed course and allowed SB164 to be heard in the House Business and Labor Committee, alongside "Utah Cares."

"The decision has been made to send both bills to the Business and Labor Committee to be judged on their own merits," Dunnigan said in a statement Tuesday. "Our leadership team had always hoped to negotiate with the governor to reach a compromise solution involving both the best of the Utah Cares and Healthy Utah plans.”

HB446 differs from SB164 in a number of ways, although the House and Governor's Office disagree on numbers. House GOP leaders say HB446 covers about 60,000 people each year (under the Primary Care Network), costs about $64 million for two years and nets the state about $200 million from the feds.

In contrast, the Governor's Office claims SB164 covers a similar amount (under expanded coverage), costs about $25 million over two years and gets nearly $1 billion back from the feds. The House claims their bill, however, is more sustainable because Healthy Utah expires in two years.

"This one, we are in for the long haul," House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told reporters on Tuesday. "We are proposing something that is admittedly more measured. But not one that we are looking to retreat from in 24 months."

Governor Gary Herbert said he was interested to see HB446.

"I would listen with an open mind to hear their arguments, whatever they may be," he said Tuesday.  "Just like I’d expect to hear the arguments on Healthy Utah."

The governor said he believed Healthy Utah was the superior plan.

"I’m here to tell you, as you analyze the costs and the benefits to the Utah taxpayer, Healthy Utah is, in my mind, absolutely the best plan," he said.