The roughly 111,000 Utahns who lack health insurance because Utah lawmakers have refused to accept federal money to expand Medicaid might soon find themselves eligible for subsidized health care.
Gov. Gary Herbert says his Healthy Utah Plan, which has been under review and undergoing tweaks by federal officials, could be a done deal by the end of September—slightly longer than his initial deadline of the end of summer.
During his monthly news conference with reporters at the KUED television studio on Thursday, Herbert said at the beginning of summer, he and the Obama administration were tangling over 35 provisions in the plan. Now, Herbert says about 10 “sticking points” remain, the largest of which is a clause that would require able-bodied recipients of the subsidized health care to seek out employment.
The crux of the impasse, Herbert said, involves those in the Obama administration who aren’t willing to concede the work requirement. The governor said some of the president’s staff simply want people to be able to get the fully subsidized health care they need—an apparently unacceptable stance in Utah.
“The reason is that they think people should just be able to go in if you need health care and get it, period,” Herbert said, addressing a question about why the Obama administration is opposed to the work requirement. “We think that takes away some of the individual responsibility.”
Even so, Herbert said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that when he travels to Washington D.C. in September to meet with health department officials, a compromise can be reached.
But even if Herbert can convince the Obama administration that his plan is sound, he’ll have steep hurdles to clear in Utah, where legislators remain wary of accepting federal funding to expand health care.
Under Herbert’s plan, Utah would accept all of the $258 million Washington has offered to provide health insurance for the state’s neediest. Accepting this kind of cash is anathema to Republicans. In an effort to temper these interests, Herbert has placed a three-year time limit on the plan, which would allow lawmakers to halt the program if it ends up costing the state too much, or isn’t successful.
Utah could join the dozens of other states that simply accepted this money and added uninsured individuals to its Medicaid rolls. Critics of this procedure say it would cost the state too much money. Herbert’s plan would essentially do the same thing as Medicaid, but would come with multiple strings attached. In addition to work requirements, the plan calls for recipients in certain wage categories to doll out co-payments for coverage.
And rather than provide government-sponsored health insurance, the money in the Health Utah Plan would be doled out to the private insurance industry to provide health care plans.
Herbert also discussed the Utah State Legislative Auditor's blistering report
of the Utah Transit Authority.
The audit, one of several in recent years to uncover mismanagement of funds and inappropriate actions by the transit agency’s board members, revealed, among other things, that UTA pre-paid a developer $10 million to build a parking garage that the developer never constructed. Another developer was hired, and the garage was built. But UTA still hasn't been reimbursed for $1.7 million of the pre-payment.
The audit found fault with a separate parking garage and infrastructure project that cost $26 million. The developer's share of the costs was $3.8 million, which, to date, has gone unpaid.
Herbert downplayed the audit, saying many of the topics covered were “old issues,” and he believes actions have been taken to remedy most of the concerns addressed in the audit.
“They have a responsibility to the taxpayers,” Herbert said of the UTA board’s responsibility to be transparent and honest in its dealings. “It’s taxpayer money out there.”