Legislative Task Force Weighs Options for Medicaid Expansion

(KCPW News) A legislative task force researching Utah’s healthcare options is considering recommending limited Medicaid expansion to the Utah legislature.

The Health System Reform Task Force has narrowed their scope to three options for how to handle Medicaid expansion. The group has ruled out accepting full expansion as prescribed by the federal government, but two of the three options include a partial expansion of Medicaid in Utah.

Lincon Nehring, Senior Health Policy Analyst at Voices for Utah Children, says that a decision to accept some Medicaid funding allocated by the Affordable Care Act makes sense for Utah. As Nehring explains, if the state covers Utahns below the poverty line with Medicaid, that could allow those just above the poverty line to receive tax credits.

“There first choice was, ‘Let’s see if we can expand Medicaid just up to poverty.’ And that’s a good step,” Nehring said. “And then their next choice was, ‘Well, if the federal government is going to require us to expand up to 138 (percent) to qualify for the federal funding, we should look at providing that coverage through the private market, helping people through a premium subsidy to purchase coverage rather than enrolling in our existing Medicaid program.’”

While Nehring says he’s very encouraged by the task force’s work, he worries that the process of negotiating a Medicaid expansion deal might be taking too long.

“We have nearly 100,000 uninsured adults below poverty today. Pursuing an uniquely Utah solution to expand Medicaid, that’s gonna take time,” he said. “That’s gonna take time to develop a plan to negotiate with the federal government, and then to implement that program, whatever it may look like. And most likely, we on’t be able to get something in place until January 1, 2015.

“The challenge is, we have people in need today that could really benefit from expanding Medicaid,” Nehring said.

The third option still in consideration is not changing Utah’s Medicaid eligibility rules, meaning an all-out rejection of Medicaid expansion.
The Health System Reform Task Force eventually will make a final recommendation to the Utah legislature, and the final decision will rest with Governor Gary Herbert. He is expected to make a decision in January.