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Healthcare Rodeo

Some say Senate Bill 96 bucks voter-approved Prop 3. Guv thinks differently.


  • Ray Howze/FILE

Acknowledging that “healthcare is a complex issue,” Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he thinks the Senate- and committee-approved Senate Bill 96 gives the people what they want: insurance coverage for Utahns who earn between 0 and 138 percent of the poverty line—up to $16,753 for a single person—and an April 1 start date.

“That’s what the Utah people want, and I support that,” Herbert said. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, and get the same outcomes that are envisioned in Proposition 3.”

The proposed legislation would supersede the Prop 3 ballot initiative that voters passed last November. Under the initiative, Medicaid would be expanded to some 150,000 Utahns. Herbert said SB96 would do the same, but in a more fiscally sustainable way. People earning incomes between $12,140 and $16,753 would buy coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Those earning toward the higher end of that range would pay a little more in premiums every month.

“I feel good about the direction that we’re going,” Herbert said. “I think we’re going to land this in a place that’s going to be good.”

SB96 would also implement work requirements and set an enrollment cap on the program, limiting the number of people who would gain coverage. For the bill to go into effect, the Trump administration would need to grant the state a waiver to enact its own version of Medicaid expansion, which the president has been wary of in the past because he opposes any expansion of the ACA.

Herbert said he’s been in contact with the feds and that there’s a “good chance” of Utah being granted the waivers this time around, thanks to a “renewed willingness to give waivers when we haven’t seen them in times past.” The governor said that was because Democrats now control the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and the Republican-led effort to repeal and replace the ACA failed.

Fulfilling his duties as Utah’s biggest cheerleader, Herbert said SB96 showcases the Beehive State’s pioneering ways. “This will be unique, it will utilize more flexibility. It’s more toward a block-grant approach, which I’ve always supported since the beginning,” he said. “I think Utah is going to be on the cutting edge of this, coming up with a new innovative way to expand Medicaid that’s fiscally prudent for the respective states, and it’s gonna help the federal government also to balance their budget. That would be a novel idea, too.”

The guv said he wasn’t tracking how the public is reacting to yet another ballot initiative overwrite by Republican lawmakers. “If we get the right policy, the public’s going to say, ‘Thank you,’” Herbert said. “I think we’re doing the bidding of what the people want to have, and I expect at the end of the day, the public’s going to say, ‘Thanks for doing your job.’”