Medicaid expansion negotiations may move beyond July deadline

Posted at 4:05 PM, May 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-28 23:39:27-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawmakers involved in the closed-door negotiations over Medicaid expansion acknowledged there is a chance the discussions will go past a self-imposed July 31 deadline.

"That's still our objective. Time will tell if we achieve it. There's still a lot of work to do," House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, told FOX 13 after briefing lawmakers on a Health Care Reform Task Force.

Asked if they don't meet the deadline, Rep. Dunnigan said: "I expect we'll keep working on it."

The "gang of six," comprised of Rep. Dunnigan, Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, House Speaker Greg Hughes, and Sen. Brian Shiozawa, have met numerous times since the end of the Utah State Legislature to try to hammer out a deal to provide health care coverage to thousands of Utah's poor. The goal was to reach a compromise by the end of July and have a special session to approve the plan in August.

Members of the so-called

Members of the so-called "gang of six" meet with HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell on April 29, 2015. (Photo courtesy the Utah Governor's Office)

However, lawmakers noted that it's still a work in progress. The group recently traveled to Washington, D.C., where they met with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. Sen. Shiozawa told the task force on Thursday that the 90-minute meeting went well.

"They seem to be open to our waivers, or new waivers if we come up with different waivers," he said.

While the Senate backed the governor's "Healthy Utah" plan, the House wouldn't agree to it, saying it was not sustainable for taxpayers in the long-run.

"We have to come up with a plan that's sustainable," Rep. Dunnigan said. "Unlike the federal government that doesn't have to worry about balancing their budget, we do in Utah."

Many lawmakers are also anxious to see if a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on portions of the Affordable Care Act will have an impact on their negotiations.

Meanwhile, advocates for the uninsured continued to hope for an agreement soon. RyLee Curtis, a senior policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project, said she was glad that lawmakers continued to talk -- but noted that people are going daily without medical care and, in some cases, dying without coverage.

She pointed to Emily Young, an advocate who testified before lawmakers in support of expanded coverage, who died last year of cancer.

Emily Young testifies before lawmakers in this picture provided by the Utah Health Policy Project.

Emily Young testifies before lawmakers in this picture provided by the Utah Health Policy Project.

"I think it's our duty to come to that solution and that we get these people coverage," Curtis told FOX 13. "Because people are without health coverage. They're losing their lives and they're sick."