Medicaid expansion hits threshold to appear on Utah ballot

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Supporters gathered enough signatures to get Medicaid expansion on the Utah ballot, according to election data released Friday, as advocates go to voters in states where conservative leaders have not made coverage available for thousands of low-income residents.

The group Utah Decides Healthcare said the push comes after years of unsuccessfully trying to convince lawmakers to cover thousands of the state’s poor. Similar efforts are underway in Idaho and Nebraska, and Maine voters approved an initiative last year.

“This is a long time coming for Utahns to be able to receive the health care that they deserve,” organizer RyLee Curtis said.

If it passes in November, Utah would join 32 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid under former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Under the Trump administration, some Republican lawmakers in states like Virginia and Kansas are interested in expanding Medicaid because the federal government is now more willing to consider conservative ideas like work requirements, though the issue remains deeply divisive.

In Utah, lawmakers have long refused to fully expand Medicare over worries about the cost to the state and whether the U.S. government can afford its share.

But they did pass an expansion with a work requirement this year. The plan is still awaiting federal approval and would only cover about 70,000 people, far fewer than backers of the ballot initiative want.

The advocates’ plan would cover more than 150,000 low-income people who make up to about $34,000 a year for a family of four. Many of those are working parents or people whose jobs don’t provide health care and haven’t been able to see a doctor in years, advocates said.

It would cost the state about $80 million, with the federal government kicking in about $700 million. The state’s share would be paid for with a sales tax increase that equals 3 cents for every $20 spent on non-food items, Curtis said.

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