Thousands of Utahns awaiting governor's decision on Medicaid expansion

Published: Thursday, Sept. 26 2013 5:35 p.m. MDT

Because she was uninsured, Young opted for a less-expensive lumpectomy and didn't receive radiation or chemotherapy. She lobbied state leaders for Medicaid expansion during the 2012 Health Summit and unfortunately took a turn for the worse and now relies on oxygen to get through the day.

Young tires more quickly and can't do many things she wants to do, including work. As she's become more debilitated over the past year, she has qualified for disability insurance and is now able to receive limited care.

"But it is almost too late," she said.

Young tries to remain optimistic but still pulls for others who were in similar circumstances as she was a year ago.

"I think we all understand things can happen outside people's control that put them in a position of needing some assistance, but that assistance is meant to be a temporary bridge to self-sufficiency, not a hammock for permanent dependency on government," Herbert said. "I want to reform Medicaid, not perpetuate its current failures."

Republican leaders in the state are against the option to expand beyond what is mandatory, as federal funding promised to help pay for an expansion is believed to be unsustainable.

Herbert said any money used, whether state or federal dollars, comes from taxpayers.

"Far from a gift horse, I worry what Washington may be offering is something more like a Trojan horse, and we all know how that turned out," he said.

"The fact is, every state dollar given to Medicaid is a dollar taken away from education, transportation, public safety and other health and human service needs," the governor said. "Even so, I recognize that Medicaid is an important part of our safety net system. It has helped thousands of Utahns avoid financial ruin and overcome significant health challenges."

Herbert said he is "close" to deciding whether Utah will expand Medicaid to cover more of the state's uninsured population, but he would not say when a decision can be expected.

Several Medicaid expansion options studied by the Utah workgroup were presented during Thursday's meeting, ranging from full expansion to formalizing charity care as a safety net in Utah. Lawmakers will also have a chance to weigh in on the final decision, as they hold the purse strings to implement any of the governor's decisions.

As of last week, 28 states and the District of Columbia were moving forward with some model of expansion, 15 were not, and seven — including Utah — remained undecided.

"I try to stay active and exercise. I'm not the typical MS patient," Combe said. "This came at me like I was smacked upside the head with a 2-by-4. People need to understand that it can happen to anybody."

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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