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My view: Expanding Medicaid is the right decision for Utah

By King Udall

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, March 21 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Now, the most pressing decision for the state of Utah is whether to accept tens of millions of federal dollars that are now available to broaden coverage for Medicaid recipients as a result of the ACA.

Seth Wenig, Associated Press

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Most Utahns are becoming painfully aware of the difficult financial budgetary decisions both at the state and the federal levels that must be made regarding the Affordable Care Act. Now, the most pressing decision for the state of Utah is whether to accept tens of millions of federal dollars that are now available to broaden coverage for Medicaid recipients as a result of the ACA. There is currently an intense debate in the state Legislature whether or not these funds should be accepted by the state.

The reasons for not accepting these funds is somewhat hard for an average taxpayer like me to understand. I fail to understand the logic for not accepting these funds; Here is a boatload of federal tax dollars to which we Utahns have already paid into with own own tax obligatons. These monies are now available to be returned to the state to be used to benefit the poorest of the poor for their critical medical needs. Utahns are expected to forfeit these funds to other states just because our Legislature does not agree with the latest political mandates from Washington, D.C.?

As a physician, I too have some real reservations about both the short- and long-term consequences of the ACA. However, I'm not going to turn away an indigent patient who comes to my office in dire need of medical care just because I may not politically agree with how he got his medical insurance.

It appears to me as an average taxpayer that our state legislators, who are primarily driven by political self-interests, are now threatening to reject this money just because they disagree politically with President Barack Obama and the ACA concept in general. Isn't this somewhat akin to cutting off our nose to spite our face? Since the state readily accepts federal money for our highway system and other critical infrastructure needs, it seems logical that this money should be accepted in the same way.

Hopefully, the governor will act above the political fray and accept this money in the best interest of those in need of scarce medical resources, as well as on behalf of the taxpayers of Utah who would rather see their federal tax money spent in Utah rather than Florida. There are more constructive ways of protesting federal laws than rejecting much needed funds targeted for those among us who are in the most need of these resources.

Perhaps a lesson from Utah history may be instructive on this issue: In 1858 at the end of the Utah war debacle (A misguided invasion of Utah Territory by Johnston's Army of several thousand federal troops, now known to history as "Buchanan's Blunder"), in order to save face, President James Buchanan offered Territorial Gov. Brigham Young a presidential pardon for unspecified "treasonable behavior". Rather than arguing about the doubtful basis for these charges and soothe his own political ego, Brigham Young readily agreed to accept the pardon in order to immediately lift the severe economic hardship the war had imposed on the extremely poor citizens of Utah.

If it is economically sound that we accept this money rather than rejecting them for political expediencies, we are depending on the governor's unbiased leadership to make the right decision.

King Udall is a physician in Utah.

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