Limited Medicaid expansion bill advances to Utah House

Tuesday , March 01, 2016 - 7:31 AM2 comments

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

 SALT LAKE CITY – A bill that would expand traditional Medicaid coverage to nearly 16,000 vulnerable adults in Utah advanced out of the House Business and Labor Committee in a 9-4 vote.

Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, is sponsor of HB437, a measure that would extend benefits to previously ineligible childless adults. 

“The intent of this is to provide full Medicaid benefits to those who are in extreme poverty and are homeless or caught up in the criminal justice system or who have behavioral health needs,” Dunnigan said.

A portion of funding for Dunnigan’s bill that would come from $1.5 million in savings accrued by a Preferred Drug List for psychotropic medications used to treat severe mental illnesses, a proposal similar to Rep. Ward’s HB18. Ward’s bill passed the House Feb. 26 in a 69-2 vote and awaits debate by the Senate.


WHAT’S NEXT: Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville will present details of HB437 in a 10:15 a.m. press conference Tuesday, March 1,  in the Hall of Governors on the 1st floor of the state Capitol. He will be joined by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.


During Monday’s committee session on HB437, community and industry leaders lined up in support of Dunnigan’s bill. 

Bill Tibbetts, associate director of the nonprofit Urban Crossroads Center, supported broader Medicaid expansion in the past, but spoke in favor of HB437 as an area where everyone could reach consensus. 

“(Dunnigan) has done an amazing job creating a bill that’s targeted on a population that this body has expressed concern for — the homeless and those exiting the criminal justice system,” Tibbetts said. “These are populations where if we don’t provide services, society ends up paying in other ways.”

Former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, now serving as president of the Utah Hospital Association, praised Dunnigan for his courage and compassion in soldiering on to “try to find an island where we all can come together.” In 2015, the Utah Hospital Association supported a broader expansion under Gov. Gary Herbert’s unsuccessful Healthy Utah plan.

“This bill allows us to come together and talk about a modest development that should have huge impact,” Bell said. “This puts a light on Utah’s decision apart from the federal government and the ACA, and lets us talk in our own way about what we can do to help those who are vulnerable.”

Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy director for the Alliance for a Better Utah, was the lone voice against Dunnigan’s proposal.

“For the past three years, Alliance for a Better Utah has provided a constant voice in support of bringing Medicaid to the tens of thousands of Utahns who live within the coverage gap,” Thomas said, noting other organizations and individuals have been part of that fight. “After all that time, money and effort, this bill comes nowhere near to accomplishing that ultimate goal.”

Thomas also described Dunnigan’s bill as fiscally irresponsible because it disregards the 90-10 match available through full Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Utah can afford to cover the Medicaid gap. It’s just that you prefer to spend millions of dollars on building highways and pursuing public lands lawsuits,” Thomas said.

MORE MEDICAID PROPOSALS

Two competing Medicaid expansion bills are also winding through the 2016 Legislature:

1) Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring SB77 to accept full Medicaid expansion available under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)

2) Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, is sponsoring HB302 to provide alternative Medicaid expansion to cover individuals up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level via hospital and electronic cigarette taxes.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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