The Affordable Care Act is currently the law in our country. While we support efforts to improve and repeal pieces of it at the federal level, Utah must deal with the realities of its existence. And while the governor, Utah’s business community and our federal delegation support efforts to amend the law, lawmakers must work within it to benefit the people of Utah. The Utah Legislature should carefully consider and support Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” proposal.
A major flaw in the Affordable Care Act has placed Utah in the position to make a monumental choice regarding Medicaid expansion. Gov. Herbert’s thoughtful approach and earnest negotiations with the federal government to develop the Healthy Utah plan makes this choice significantly more clear.
A decision impacting thousands of lives and millions of Utah taxpayer dollars requires the utmost deliberation. In this case, after months of negotiations with the administration that have included key members of the Utah Legislature, the private sector and community stakeholders, the governor has done a great job finding a solution to a difficult issue. His leadership has resulted in an innovative Utah-specific policy solution for a difficult and complex policy problem.
This solution maximizes the Utah taxpayer dollar, strengthens the competitive, private insurance market and promotes individual accountability by those receiving assistance. Healthy Utah also prevents the state from being left on the hook for providing additional ongoing benefits if the federal government becomes unable or unwilling to hold up its end of the bargain.
Utahns and Utah’s businesses are already paying taxes specifically for the Affordable Care Act. We need to bring this money back to Utah and strengthen our state economy, community and workforce along with it. Without action, we are paying for the health care needs of low-income residents in other states. This doesn’t make sense, especially when we have needs right here in Utah.
Utah believes in getting the most from every tax dollar, so we collect as few tax dollars as possible. If we don’t utilize the money we have already paid to address the issue, we end up paying twice in the form of higher overall health care costs due to the uninsured using expensive emergency care. The Healthy Utah proposal prevents this hidden tax on business and the Utah taxpayer, saving everyone in Utah.
A healthy workforce is necessary for a productive business community. This plan includes personal accountability by linking opportunities to work and receive public assistance. The governor has negotiated a unique concurrent work enrollment system where able-bodied adults who are not employed will be automatically enrolled in a program designed to get them back into the workforce and off public assistance. The ultimate goal is not only to help people in need, but also to help them no longer need assistance.
There is no question that the governor’s plan makes lemonade out of lemons. And this decision is not about federal dollars versus state dollars. They are all Utah taxpayer dollars. Every tax dollar the government spends comes from the people and the business community and whatever we do in Utah should be in the best interest of our state.
The Healthy Utah program is a three-year pilot program with the flexibility to be innovative. Utah’s elected officials and the business community prove on a regular basis that we can do more with less, and that is exactly what the governor has negotiated. The Legislature should make it clear that this program should be evaluated continuously and if it is not working, preserve the state’s ability to innovate or terminate the program.
As the voice of business in Utah, we ask Utah’s Legislature to consider and support this flexible, innovative, Utah-specific solution that keeps taxpayer dollars in Utah. Utah’s business community believes that this it is the right way forward for our state.
Lane Beattie is president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Chamber.