(KCPW News) The Utah House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill that would provide health coverage under Medicaid to a limited number of people living in poverty in the state. House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan’s HB437 would provide coverage to 16,000 Utahns who are chronically homeless, have mental health problems, or who have recently been released from prison. The measure was supported by most Republicans in the House but didn’t get a single vote from Democrats, who said the bill was leaving too many people behind.
During debate on the House floor on Friday, Dunnigan said that in addition to providing “a hand-up” to some of Utah’s poor, the measure was the fiscally-responsible option.
“It respects the taxpayer…by saying we will provide coverage to as many people as we can within our budgetary appropriations,” Dunnigan said.
But several Democrats voiced their opposition to the measure, saying that full medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act would cover tens of thousands of more people, while better leveraging federal funding.
Salt Lake Democratic Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck said that while there were better options available, Dunnigan’s bill was difficult to support.
“I do resent being pressed into a Sophie’s choice – having to choose which of two children should be left behind,” she said.
Dunnigan’s proposal, which would cost the state roughly $30 million, doesn’t take any of the tens of millions of dollars available as a federal match through the Affordable Care Act and instead expands upon the traditional Medicaid program. The proposal would also require a waiver from the federal government to be implemented.
HB437 now heads to the Senate. Meanwhile a measure by Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis that calls for Utah to accept full Medicaid expansion is also awaiting debate on the Senate floor.
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