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Utah Democrats offer full Medicaid expansion bill

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 5:06 a.m. MDT

A Democratic plan to take the full Medicaid expansion available under the Affordable Care Act surfaced Wednesday as the Legislature's GOP majority remained split over competing proposals from their ranks and Gov. Gary Herbert. (Eric Gay, AP) A Democratic plan to take the full Medicaid expansion available under the Affordable Care Act surfaced Wednesday as the Legislature's GOP majority remained split over competing proposals from their ranks and Gov. Gary Herbert. (Eric Gay, AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Democratic plan to take the full Medicaid expansion available under the Affordable Care Act surfaced Wednesday as the Legislature's GOP majority remained split over competing proposals from their ranks and Gov. Gary Herbert.

SB272, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, calls for the state to accept all of the federal money offered to provide health care coverage for Utahns who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Davis said the bill will have a hearing Friday before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee but admits it's a long shot.

"I'll be lucky to get it out of committee," he said.

Democrats, the minority leader said, want to put a fourth option on the table.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has called for rejecting the federal funds available for Medicaid expansion and spend $35 million that would be matched with other federal funds to expand existing state programs for the most needy.

Both the governor and Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, however, say the state should accept Medicaid expansion money. Herbert said Utahns are already paying more than $800 million in federal taxes under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The governor said he would use the nearly $300 million he says is available to provide a new state plan to the Utahns who would be covered under the expansion.

Shiozawa's plan would help only those earning less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The estimated 54,000 Utahns in that category don't qualify for subsidies through the Affordable Care Act without the expansion.

Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, who helped put together the speaker's plan, said the likelihood of the Democrats' plan moving forward is "extremely remote," especially this late in the session.

"There's a lot who would prefer to do nothing. The truth is, doing nothing leaves everything open still," Sanpei said. "No one really wants to take a position of doing nothing. But there's a lot who would prefer to be cautious."

The governor said Tuesday that while he expects direction from lawmakers before the session ends March 13, dealing with the specifics of any plan will likely require a special session of the Legislature.

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