Utah House votes to bar Medicaid expansion

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The Utah House voted Monday to block the expansion of Medicaid.

The move was a message to Gov. Gary Herbert, who is weighing whether to accept the federal government’s offer to expand Medicaid.

Herbert said he won’t make that decision until summer, after an outside consulting group finishes reviewing the pros and cons of expansion.

The House voted 46-27 to oppose such a move.

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, sponsored the bill and spoke emotionally Monday in the House. The choked-up Anderegg said it would be “dictatorial” if the governor accepted the expansion.

Republican lawmakers said expansion offers a false promise of federal support that could drain the state budget down the line.

Critics of Anderegg’s measure said the bill was hurried, and lawmakers should wait to see the results of the pending study.

Anderegg countered that the state has been mulling the issue for months.

“This debate isn’t something I decided to pull out of my pocket at the last second,” he said.

Under the health care overhaul law, the federal government has offered to pick up the tab for Medicaid expansion in the first three years and 90 percent over the long haul. By 2021, the program would cost the state an estimated $60 million, according to projections from the Utah office of the legislative fiscal analyst.

To date, 21 states plus Washington, D.C., have announced plans to expand their Medicaid program. Fourteen states have opted to forgo the expansion. The rest, including Utah, have not yet made a decision.

If Herbert expands Utah’s program, about 130,000 uninsured people would gain coverage under Medicaid. That’s in addition to the 225,000 to 250,000 people in the state currently estimated to be on the program.

Some of the indecision in Utah and other states stems from concerns that Washington may renege on the 90 percent deal. The regular Medicaid match rate is closer to 50 percent, which would mean a significant burden on Utah if the costs would shift to the states.

If the state opts to grow its program, tough spending choices will come down the road, Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, said Friday during a news conference.

But a move to expand Medicaid in Utah would ensure that Utah taxpayers’ dollars go toward their own state, said Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Salt Lake City.

The measure by Anderegg pushed back against a bill that Democrats brought forward earlier in the session to urge the governor to accept the expansion.

“It’s one of those be careful what you ask for scenarios that play out on capitol hill,” said majority whip, Rep. Gregory Hughes of Draper.

The governor will likely include the Legislature in his decision on Medicaid, said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, because it’s the Legislature’s job to set the budget and divvy up the would-be Medicare money.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

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