Utah bill to limit Medicaid expansion could cost $72 million, relies on Trump administration waiver

Composite photo. Background photo by Darrin Klimick/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A state analysis shows Utah lawmakers’ plan to reduce the number of people covered by a voter-passed Medicaid expansion could cost nearly $72 million before expected savings begin.

Medicaid Expansion Adjustments, designated as SB 96 and sponsored by North Ogden Republican Sen. Allen Christensen, passed the Senate by a vote of 22-7 Monday, with all Southern Utah senators voting in favor of the bill. If it is approved by the full Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, the state would initially pay more money to cover fewer people because lawmakers’ scaled-back version doesn’t qualify for increased federal money under President Barack Obama’s signature health-care care law.

Currently, Utah covers 30 percent of the cost of Medicaid, with the federal government covering the other 70 percent. Full Medicaid expansion, as specified by the voter-approved Proposition 3, would increase the federal portion to 90 percent as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Utah lawmakers say the state can’t afford full Medicaid expansion and that their plan will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the long run. However, this is reliant on the state getting a first-of-its-kind waiver from the Trump administration to get the increased federal dollars anyway for a plan that would cover those earning up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level – as opposed to 138 percent as specified by Proposition 3.

Lawmakers say they are confident in getting the waiver. However, it may be a moot point if the bill to limit Medicaid expansion doesn’t pass. According to a report from Utah Policy, SB 96 may not get the votes it needs, which would be a 2/3 majority in this case since it would go into effect immediately upon Herbert’s signature and because it would block a citizen referendum to repeal the measure.

Republican leaders are reportedly turning up the pressure on newly elected legislators. In a recent meeting called by House Majority Leader Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, new members were informed by Gibson that leadership expected them to vote for the bill.

“They’re having trouble finding the 50 votes (needed for a 2/3 majority),” one House Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Utah Policy.

The cost estimates released Saturday infuriated activists. Utah Decides Healthcare spokesman Andrew Roberts says lawmakers are trying to cut a backroom deal to overturn the law passed by the voters.

Updated Feb. 4 at 5:45 p.m. to reflect the passage of the bill in the Utah Senate.

Read more: See all St. George News reports and opinions on Utah Legislature 2019 issues

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The Associated Press contributed to this report

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