SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert’s proposed Healthy Utah Plan made it past the Senate and into the House of Representatives, but that may be where its journey ends in the 2015 General Session.
In a majority vote Wednesday, members of the House Business and Labor Standing Committee chose to not recommend the proposal move forward.
The bill, also known as Senate Bill 164 – Access to Health Care Amendments, almost did not make it that far. Following its passing in the Senate on Feb. 25, House leaders announced that discussion on the bill would only serve to be futile and that their time could be better spent on other matters. Even with these feelings, House leaders did eventually agree to give the bill its chance in committee.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Sen. Brian Shiozawa, the bill’s sponsor, presented why he thought the bill was the best choice to help assist Utahns currently in need of a better healthcare system.
“If we don’t do anything,” Shiozawa said, “it will just get worse.”
Shiozawa went on to discuss the nearly 58,000 Utahns caught in the coverage gap created by the Affordable Care Act and the state’s Medicaid limitations. He also said the difference in cost between Healthy Utah and Sen. James Dunnigan’s “Utah Cares” proposal was quite large and that H.B. 164 would be a better decision.
If implemented, Shiozawa said, Healthy Utah would cost about $25 million dollars in state funds while Dunnigan’s proposal would cost closer to $60 million-$70 million within the same time frame. His other concern was that Utah Cares does not extend coverage to the same amount of people as Healthy Utah.
However, there were some reservations from committee members regarding Healthy Utah. Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, said he had concerns about implementing a pilot program that would need further work in two years.
“In my opinion, passing Healthy Utah for two years with the intent of taking it away is immoral,” Stanard said. “And passing it for two years with the intent of keeping it is irresponsible. I just don’t know how to get between the two of those.”
During his presentation, Dunnigan said while his proposal, House Bill 446, would only cover up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, that was as much as he felt comfortable with. This was, he said, because those above 100 percent had other options.
“Those people are already eligible for subsidized coverage,” Dunnigan said.
The Utah Cares proposal would cover 46,000 Utahns who are currently ineligible for Medicaid or subsidized plans, Dunnigan said. Of these, about 25,000 people would be brought into coverage through the Primary Care Network, leaving the rest to be covered under expanding Medicaid coverage.
In the end, the majority of Committee members voted against the Healthy Utah proposal. Nine members voted against the bill, leaving four to vote in favor for it and one representative absent. The vote for Utah Cares saw the opposite result. Four committee members voted against Dunnigan’s proposal with nine in favor of it and one still absent.
Southern Utah Representative Stanard voted against Healthy Utah and voted in favor of the Utah Cares proposal.
Following the committee’s decision, Gov. Herbert’s spokesman, Marty Carpenter, issued a statement in response:
Healthy Utah is the best plan for taxpayers and the most practical alternative to Medicaid expansion. There is sharp contrast in terms of cost and coverage between the plans supported by the House committee and the Senate. The governor looks forward to working with the Legislature on a solution that best protects the interests of the Utah taxpayer and provides necessary coverage for Utahns in need.
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