Wednesday, June 18, 2014


by Paul Gibbs

A Letter To The Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune:
"I just re-read the Tribune editorial ("County steps up – Salt Lake is right about Medicaid," June 14). I am absolutely disgusted by the tail-between-the legs, hat-in-hand request that the Legislature please approve the Herbert/insurance industry plan, Healthy Utah.
Why is it always that the poor, working poor and disadvantaged Utahns must accept either nothing or something slightly better than nothing? Where is the outrage that Herbert’s plan has the primary benefit of giving the health insurance industry the money he is seeking from the feds? Where are the voices of reason that speak up and demand that the BEST solution to Utah’s health care be adopted? Where are advocates that speak on behalf of the poor and powerless? Why is it always alright that Utahns receive a lousy deal while the citizens of other states get the good deal?"
-James F. Sargeant, Salt Lake City

Some supporters of Medicaid expansion are questioning why leading supporters are embracing Governor Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah plan instead of sticking to our guns and demanding the full expansion of traditional Medicaid offered under the Affordable Care Act. Isn't Healthy Utah watered down, putting in the unnecessary middle-man of private insurance? Isn't there a work requirement that isn't there in Medicaid expansion? The answer to those questions is, at least to a degree, yes.  

While the work requirement is actually one of the bigger hurdles to negotiation with the federal government (though the governor's negotiators are confident it will approved), it's very popular with Utah residents. cited by 70% in the recent Dan Jones & Associates poll as their biggest reason for preferring Healthy Utah over full expansion. And that, in a nutshell, is what it comes down to: Healthy Utah has a chance of passing in Utah. Full expansion doesn't. Politicians, activists and others have lobbied tirelessly for the full expansion for over a year and a half, and it has failed multiple votes in the legislature. We have to keep in mind that we're dealing with a very partisan legislature which we're having a difficult time getting to accept a plan from a popular governor from their own party. A plan which a two-thirds majority of Utahns support. Utah Health Reform Task Force co-chairman Allen Christensen (R-Ogden) has declared himself "110 percent opposed to this expansion", and far too many other members of the legislature (notably House Speaker Becky Lockhart) have similar attitudes. Getting Healthy Utah past this sort of partisan stubbornness will be challenging enough. Getting them too pass a full Medicaid expansion would be impossible.

My first choice was full expansion, and it was very painful to let go of that hope. But Healthy Utah will still cover 111,00 people, comparable to the number covered under expansion. And as far as liberal vs. conservative ideology, I don't care. I'm a committed Democrat who proudly voted for Barack Obama twice and supports the admittedly imperfect Affordable Care Act. I didn't vote for Gary Herbert. But the lives and health of thousands of Utahns matter a lot more to me than party politics. GOP legislators putting parisant politics ahead of all else is exactly why we still haven't passed any form of expansion.  If supporters of expansion are as inflexibly hardline as opponents continue (in many cases) to be, then we'll be stuck with the one option which is utterly unthinkable: doing nothing.

The Utah Health Reform Task Force meets again to discuss Healthy Utah on July 17. Before then, we need as many Utahns as possible to contact them and let them know they want a special session to pass Healthy Utah. We can't afford to wait until next year. It's literally a matter of life and death.

Task Force Members and Email Addresses:

Senator Allen Christensen - 
Representative Jim Dunnigan
Representative Dean Sanpei
Representative Mike Kennedy
Representative Francis Gibson
Senator Stuart Adams
Senator Peter Knudson
Representative Rebecca Edwards
Representative Marie Poulson
Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck
Senator Gene Davis

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