It's been called the session's most important legislation and the biggest thing since the creation of Medicaid.
It's the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the Utah Legislature has approved it.CHIP will make about 30,000 children of Utah's working poor families eligible for health insurance. Officials believe it will also be the impetus for about 15,000 more children who are eligible for Medicaid but not currently enrolled to find their way to that program.
The road was bumpy for HB137, which created the program and the funding mechanism to pay for it. Lawmakers battled over whether buying into the federal initiative, made possible by an increase in national cigarette taxes, was creating a monster that would grow out of control.
Sen. Craig Taylor, R-Kaysville, and the Utah Eagle Forum said CHIP was a backdoor attempt to socialize medicine.
But Tuesday, Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley, said it would be "shame on us" if CHIP wasn't approved.
He and his colleagues in the Utah Senate restored CHIP to cover children whose families were 100 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level - $16,000 to $32,000 for a family of four, something the House had whittled down the week before.
The Legislature also struggled over the private-public partnership to fund the program. And an appropriations committee had to put money for the Medicaid budget, a critical part of the partnership agreement, on a waiting list because they didn't have the cash.
Finally, lawmakers approved the money; Tuesday, they approved the bill.
Officials from the Utah Health Policy Commission and children's advocates celebrated after the vote.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!," said Dr. Tom Metcalf, a Salt Lake pediatrician who had urged lawmakers to approve the plan.
Rachel Fisher, an advocate for Utah Children, said that in a state that promotes family values, the Legislature did the right thing.
By approving HB137, sponsored by Rep. Peter Knudson, R-Brig-ham City, Utah will extend the hospital-bed tax, which equates to about $6 per patient per day. Rural hospital are excluded from the tax.
Because of an agreement with the Utah Association of Health Care Providers, that tax will raise the more than $5 million Utah needs to qualify for $25 million in federal funds.
The Utah Department of Health will administer the program, which is set to begin this summer.