Governor Herbert Unveils Medicaid Expansion Plan

(KCPW News) It’s no secret that Governor Gary Herbert is dissatisfied with the House plan to fund Medicaid. On Tuesday, Herbert announced he would be unveiling his own plan for Medicaid expansion in Utah. On Thursday, he did just that.

At the beginning of his presentation on Thursday, Governor Herbert laid out many of the same arguments he has been making all along on Medicaid expansion: that the state needs to take care of the less fortunate, that Utah taxpayers will be paying for federal healthcare expenditures no matter what, that a House plan that eschews federal money is costly and inefficient, and that Utah needs to at least do something on this issue.

So it was a little surprising when the governor said this:

“I want to tell you that, after a thorough analysis and careful consideration, I’m convinced today that the best pathway forward for Utah is not to pursue an expansion of the federal Medicaid program.”

And technically, Herbert’s plan would not utilize the federal Medicaid expansion. But it would take federal dollars.

Here’s Herbert again, explaining his idea:

“To be clear, while I am not recommending an expansion of the federal Medicaid program, I am prepared to pursue a block grant from the federal government to bring Utah taxpayers’ dollars back to our state to be used in an unique Utah way to fulfill our responsibility to care for those who live in poverty amongst us in our communities.”

By taking a block grant from the federal government that equates to what Utahns are already paying in federal taxes for the program, Utah would be free to use that grant money to fund Medicaid expansion how policymakers see fit. This idea addresses the argument that House Speaker Becky Lockhart has made about federal dollars coming with too many obligations and strings attached. But, as Herbert pointed out, his so-called “Healthy Utah” plan covers more people than the House plan.

“It goes up to 133% of poverty. In many ways, it mirrors the Medicaid expansion program,” he said. “There are a lot of similarities as far as who it will address and the problems it’s going to solve for these people in our community living below poverty and in poverty.”

Some members of the media questioned whether the federal government would agree to a plan that essentially allows the state of Utah to do whatever they want with the estimated $258 million proposed by Herbert. Herbert mentioned he had recently been in Washington and spoke with officials from the Obama administration, and he was optimistic that the federal government would give his plan the “OK.” But at the same time, he didn’t want to entertain the thought that his plan would be rejected.

“I don’t want any negative vibes in here. This is going to work out,” he said. “I really am confident that this is going to work out, and we’ll have support from the House and Senate.”

With Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” plan now out in the daylight, the next few days will be critical as legislators react to the governor’s plan. And with two weeks left in the legislative session, consensus on any Medicaid expansion strategy might be difficult to procure.

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