Herbert stops short of threatening veto on bill stopping Medicaid expansion

Published: Thursday, March 7 2013 7:35 p.m. MST

Governor Garry Herbert

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert stopped short Thursday of threatening to veto a bill that appears to be an attempt to take away his ability to decide whether the state expands Medicaid coverage.

"My position has been clear," the governor told reporters, saying again he intends to wait to make a decision until a Utah Department of Health-commissioned study is completed on the impacts of accepting the expansion offered by the federal government.

"We'll probably have information on that by this summer, and then we can make a thoughtful decision based on a thoughtful review of the data," Herbert said.

He said he was "just counseling" lawmakers they'd be better off delaying any action until then.

But on Wednesday, HB391, a bill that would have nullified in Utah the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, was unexpectedly changed in committee to exempt Utah from expanding Medicaid. 

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she doesn't expect the bill to affect the decision over Medicaid expansion.

"I anticipate, when the general session is over, whether or not this piece of legislation passes, that we will begin talking with the governor about this decision he has to make," the speaker said.

Lawmakers have a role in that decision, too, she said.

"Congress gave authority to the governor to make this decision. But as with most things that take money, the power of the purse is given to the Legislature," Lockhart said, calling it "in many ways, a joint decision." 

The speaker said she wasn't sure how she would vote on the bill, although she personally opposes the Medicaid expansion. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Orem, and other House Republicans have scheduled a news conference for Friday.

The Utah Democratic Party slammed the GOP over the bill.

"The Republican Party owes every Utahn an apology," Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Lyon said in a statement. "Medicaid expansion is the right, fiscally responsible thing to do."

Lyon called the expansion "a $430 million no-brainer. But the Republican Party in this state has been taken over by extremists and empty rhetoric." He suggested the GOP is "looking for political cover to refuse the expansion in yet another metaphorical middle finger to President Obama, or they have badly lost control of their own caucus."

Only five states, including Utah, have yet to make a decision on expanding Medicaid, a program to help the uninsured. The federal government has committed to fully fund the extra cost for three years, beginning in January 2014, before the percentage of the reimbursement begins to decline.

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