Herbert trying to sway Utah legislators and federal government to Medicaid proposal

Governor Gary R. Herbert delivers his 2014 State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Deseret News, Tom Smart, Pool)

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has finally announced his plan for Medicaid, but he still faces a long road for it to become reality.

The first hurdle for the Republican governor will be convincing legislators, particularly those in his own party, that he’s not seeking a full Medicaid expansion under the federal health law.

“To be clear, while I’m not recommending an expansion of the federal Medicaid program,” Herbert said during a news conference Thursday, “I am prepared to pursue a block grant from the federal government to bring Utah tax payers’ dollars back to our state to be used in a unique Utah way to fulfill our responsibility to care for those who live amongst us in our communities.”

Republican legislative leaders say the governor’s plan is essentially full expansion, which Utah’s GOP legislators generally oppose.

Herbert said Thursday he’s rejected expansion that adds more low-income people to the government program. Instead, he wants federal dollars to help those people buy private plans.

“Doing nothing, as I’ve said before, is not an option,” Herbert continued. “We need to do something. The debate is really what is that something.

“I’d also add that if we do nothing the costs continue to increase. In fact, we’ll see more cost shifting that will take place with tens of millions of dollars to consumers in the form of increased cost.”

About 60,000 Utah residents are not currently covered by Medicaid or eligible for federal subsidies to pay for private insurance. Herbert said that we have a moral obligation to insure that the poorest Utahns can obtain good quality health care.

Beyond getting legislators to sign on, Herbert needs to win approval from a federal government that may be reluctant to approve a plan that appears to seek millions of dollars without strings attached.

Herbert’s plan would use the money Utah would have received to fully expand to help those up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. The money would help them purchase private plans.

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