SALT LAKE CITY -- Gov. Gary Herbert will take his time making a decision about whether to expand Medicaid to cover more of the state's uninsured residents.
Herbert suggested he may wait until the Legislature convenes in 2014 to finalize a decision on whether the Beehive State will join 23 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding the federal program.
"There are a lot of questions out there that haven't been answered. What is the true cost? It's not acceptable to me to say it's free money. It's not free money. It comes out of my pocket and yours," Herbert said in a recent news conference.
Implementation of the Affordable Care Act -- sometimes called "Obamacare" -- would expand Medicaid benefits to more low-income residents in the state. The state would potentially save money in the short term, extending the program with the implementation of the new health care program. The expansion could possibly extend the federal program to as many as 123,000 more Utahns.
The expansion could save the state some funding for the federal program, short term. A legislative fiscal analyst estimated the expansion could save the state $6 million in the first year and nearly $16 million in the second year.
Herbert promised the decision will be weighed carefully. He has called a health care summit for later this year and organized a task force to probe the possible expansion plan and its benefits and drawbacks.
"I'm going to make the decision on what is best for the people of Utah, both in the short and long term," Herbert said.
In the meantime, one organization claims the delay will leave state residents with the responsibility to subsidize the program for residents of other states, without any local benefit.
The Alliance for a Better Utah said the governor already has all the information he needs from an independent study released earlier this year, which shows Medicaid expansion could save the state $130 million over the next decade. Maryann Martindale, director of AFBU, said:
"The truth is, Utahns need this expansion. This is a delay with no purpose but political coverage from, and unnecessary deference to, the state Legislature. We should expand Medicaid now. There is no need to wait, except to attempt to make a political statement at the expense of the most-at-risk among us."