Utah submits Medicaid plan to help with homeless, treatment

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah asked the Trump administration this week to approve a limited Medicaid plan to help the homeless and those in need of mental health and drug addiction treatment.

The plan is part of a state strategy to curb violence and drug trafficking in a Salt Lake City neighborhood near an overcrowded homeless shelter, but it’s a very limited alternative to expanding Utah’s Medicaid plans as offered under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Utah officials decided not to take the federal government’s offer under the law to help open the state’s Medicaid program up to insure more of the working poor. GOP state officials said they worried more people would sign up than Utah could afford and they worried that federal officials grappling with national debt could renege on the offer to pay the costs.

Instead, Utah passed a pared-down plan insuring homeless people making less than about $600 a year or people who need mental health or substance abuse treatment, particularly those in the criminal justice system.

Utah health officials submitted the plan to the U.S. government Tuesday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2wTycmz ). State officials say they hope the Trump administration will approve it in time for people to begin getting coverage on Jan. 1.

The submission comes amid a large-scale police operation this week in downtown Salt Lake City, where officers have walked the streets, stopping people and arrested those with drug paraphernalia or outstanding warrants as a police helicopter circled overhead.

The five-day sweep near the Road Home Shelter is part of a two-year effort that will include drug treatment and helping people get jobs, according to state officials. The Medicaid plan is expected to help Utah add 200 more beds in treatment programs, on top of several dozen they hope to open up in the coming weeks.

The action follows several killings in the area recently, including one occurring the same weekend a homeless man attacked a visiting minor-league baseball player with a crowbar during an attempted robbery.

Utah’s Medicaid plan will require those covered by the state-federal insurance program to have a job or go through job training programs. It would also impose a five-year lifetime cap on coverage in the program and charge people a $25 copay for seeking emergency room treatment if they aren’t having a true health emergency.

Utah submitted part of the plan to the Obama administration last year, but the government didn’t act on it before Trump took office. Trump has promised to give states more flexibility.

Critics, including low-income advocates, say Utah’s plan is one small step to help but it creates roadblocks, including the lifetime limit, that could make it difficult for the poor to get help and back on their feet.

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