SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday he doesn't believe the sudden resignation of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will slow down his efforts to win approval for an alternative to Medicaid expansion.
"We're continuing on as we planned," the governor told reporters before leaving for Washington, D.C. for two days of meetings with Sebelius and other officials in President Barack Obama's administration.
Herbert, who was able to lobby Sebelius personally earlier this year at a White House meeting, said he also knows her proposed replacement, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
"Whether it's Kathleen or Sylvia, I think I have a good working relationship to continue to propose this alternative to Medicaid expansion," the governor said. "I don't see any difference. We have maybe a change of personalities."
He said he still believes he can win approval by summer for his "Healthy Utah" plan that would use the nearly $300 million in Medicaid expansion funds available under the Affordable Care Act to help low-income Utahns buy private insurance.
"Ultimately, this is going to come out of the White House," Herbert said. "I take President Obama at his word when he said, 'I want to give states more flexibility and if you've got a better way to do things, we want to hear about it and work with you.'"
The president made those comments at a meeting of the National Governors Association in the White House last February to encourage states like Utah that have yet to accept the expansion money.
The governor also has to sell his plan to state lawmakers. The 2014 Legislature was unable to agree on what to do about Medicaid expansion, even though nearly 60,000 Utahns don't qualify for health care subsidies without it.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, seen as a challenger to the governor in 2016, criticized Herbert for his willingness to use the Medicaid expansion funds. She unsuccessfully pushed a plan using $35 million in state funds.
Herbert, though, remained optimistic Friday. The governor will have to call lawmakers into a special session of the Legislature to approve any deal made with the Obama administration.
"I think we've got every opportunity to get this done in a timely fashion," he said. "Hopefully, again, by the end of summer."
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