End the Stalling and Pass Healthy Utah so that More Utahns Can Live
Jul 12, 2015
Today, House Democratic Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck published an Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune calling on local and federal elected officials in Utah to stop wasting time and save Utahns lives today. As the notorious “gang of six” renegotiate the already heavily negotiated Healthy Utah plan, Representative Chavez-Houck asks the question “If a fiscally conservative legislature knows this is the most fiscally sound plan, why do they continue to throw up roadblocks?” She also questions the basis that led to other unwise decisions during the ACA debate, including why Utah did not expand the already existing state run Avenue H program to individuals searching for health insurance. You can read her opinion on these issues here, or download the pdf below.
Last March, 55% of Utahns said they favored Healthy Utah over what the House proposed, and that number has only grown. With so much support for this plan to give Utahns affordable healthcare, we have to wonder who these continued tactics help, and who they hurt. Find out more on the benefits and drawbacks of both proposed plans here.
Op-ed: Medicaid, ‘Healthy Utah’ and ‘Frail Utah’
Feb 12, 2015
For those Utahns who pride themselves on living in the “best managed” or “most fiscally responsible” state in the country, think again. Utah is flushing hundreds of millions of tax dollars down the drain by refusing to participate in Medicaid expansion.
Medicaid is a federal/state partnership to help provide medical coverage to people in need. Although it has been around a long time, Medicaid has big gaps in who it covers. The Affordable Care Act fills these gaps through Medicaid expansion.
Each state chooses whether it will expand Medicaid. For the three years beginning in 2014, the federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of expansion. After that, states have to share some of the cost. The percentage of state sharing grows gradually until, in 2021, states have to pay 10 percent and the federal government will pay 90 percent. The feds will continue to pay 90 percent of expansion after 2021 unless Congress changes it. However, regardless of whether Utah expands Medicaid, we’ll still have to pay our share of the federal tax dollars necessary to fund expansion.
The Legislature needs to pass full expansion. More than a year ago, two separate consulting groups told the Legislature that full expansion would cover the most Utahns and bring the greatest amount of money back to Utah. But our Legislature is determined to stand in the way of getting money we’ve already paid to the feds back in our pockets.
Gov. Gary Herbert has proposed a reduced version of expansion called “Healthy Utah.” Alternatively, the Legislature’s health reform task force recommends a far smaller, more scaled back, expansion plan that covers only what it calls the “medically frail.” I call this “Frail Utah.”
Under Healthy Utah, over the first five years of expansion, in exchange for paying $120 million, Utah would get back from the federal government $2.1 billion. That’s a return to Utahns of over $17 for every additional state dollar we would pay. Healthy Utah would also provide over 150,000 Utahns access to health care that they don’t have right now. Not to mention the new jobs $2.1 billion would create over five years.
Even in 2021, when Utah pays 10 percent of expansion and the feds pay 90 percent, the cost to Utah will be $78 million but it will still bring in $648 million from the feds. On the other hand, Frail Utah will cost $40 million and will bring in only about $100 million in federal tax dollars. And Frail Utah will provide access to affordable health care to only about a tenth the Utahns that Healthy Utah will provide.
I can count. And the numbers for Frail Utah don’t add up. Frail Utah takes hundreds of millions of dollars that Utahns have already paid in taxes to the federal government and throws them to the wind.
Of course, comparing dollars and cents is not the best way to evaluate the two plans. The quality of a person’s life, even their ability to continue to live, is what we’re talking about when we discuss access to healthcare. And the lives of Utahns should matter far more to us than money alone.
So why does the Legislature refuse to expand Medicaid? There are a lot of reasons. But a primary one is that many legislators simply have little empathy for those among us in the greatest need. Many believe people without health insurance have only themselves to blame for their circumstances. They believe we should stay our hand, that lack of access to health care is a just punishment for irresponsible behavior. As one legislator said to me, “Brian, if those folks want health insurance, they should go out and get a job.” Apparently he doesn’t know that 56 percent of those who would be covered under Healthy Utah are already working but their employer doesn’t provide health insurance.
We need to ensure all Utahns have access to health care for the treatment of devastating illnesses and injuries. Providing those without insurance health coverage before they need expensive emergency room or intensive care treatment is better for their quality of life and less expensive for the rest of us. Without expansion, those with health insurance will have to continue to pay higher medical bills of our own to cover the costs of uncompensated care in Utah.
Let’s take back the taxes working Utahns have already paid to the federal government. Let’s improve right now the quality of life for those without health insurance. It’s fiscally smart. It’s humane. It’s wise stewardship of our most important state resource: the health of our people. We can’t afford not to expand Medicaid.
Rep. Brian S. King is a Democratic member of the Utah House representing Salt Lake City.