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State Democratic leaders blast legislature for shutting them out of Medicaid expansion talks

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Posted at 7:20 PM, Aug 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-18 21:20:07-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah democrats are accusing Republican lawmakers of putting economic development above the lives of 53,000 Utahns who do not have access to Medicaid coverage.

On Tuesday, the Democratic Party held a press conference at the State Capitol to address their concerns. They urged the legislature to act now.

This comes on the heels of a special legislative session scheduled for Wednesday where lawmakers will vote on the proposed prison relocation site.

Democratic leaders aren’t the only ones who are frustrated with the lack of a plan for Medicaid expansion. Several Utahns were at the capitol, including Brent Frisby.

Frisby’s wife Carol passed away July 13 from colon cancer. He said if she had access to Medicaid, she would be here today.

“We’ve been trying to get help for two and a half years before then, but she’s at peace with her mind right now even though she passed away,” Frisby said.

Heather Hirsche was also in attendance. The divorced mother said she went back to school so she could find a job to support her family.

“It’s been very frustrating. It just adds another layer of worry to everyday life that an illness or an injury could really set me back when I'm trying to get back on my feet financially,” said Hirshche, who is now a social worker.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez Houck, D-Salt Lake City, showed piles of paper representing the reports and meetings and discussions she’s collected over the past three years.

Chavez-Houck said she’s frustrated with lawmakers. She is waiting to hear specifics about the “conceptual framework” for Medicaid expansion, announced by the group of six state lawmakers in July.

“As we often discover up here, the devil is in the details,” Chavez-Houck said.

Republican leaders say the compromise will protect the state’s budget, and will require hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies to help pay for the expansion.

“We don’t have a set timetable -- part of it depends on our work with the federal government. We’re trying to flesh out a lot of different pieces of the program,” said House Majority Leader, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, and member of the Gang of Six.

The Utah Republican Party Chair, James Evans, also weighed in, saying in part:

"The Democrats have demonstrated once again that they are not interested in actually improving health care quality for Utahns.

"Instead, they are using emotion to manipulate and advance the cause of big government. I call on the Democrats to stop playing politics with such an important issue.

"I'm confident that our strong Republican leadership will forge a solution that will be respectful of the taxpayer and provide health care to Utahns who cannot afford it. Our Republican leaders understand the importance of passing a fiscally responsible plan based on sound policy that will stand the test of time."

While the debate plays out, the stories will unfold on the big screen.

Two University of Utah students, John Michael Sanchez and Spencer Merrick, produced a documentary titled, “Donut Hole: Life in the Medicaid Coverage Gap.”

“One of the most kind of hard things to hear especially as a medical student, was that people were making decisions about medical based on financial reasons not what is best for my health but can I even afford it, and I don`t think anyone should ever have to be in that position,” Sanchez said.

The film will screen on Sept. 1 at the university’s college of Law at 7 p.m.

The filmmakers are handing out personal invitations to lawmakers.