As the so-called Gang of Six considers Medicaid expansion in Utah under Obamacare, let’s step back to look at the negative long-term ramifications of the ever-increasing expansion of the federal government in Utah.
When President Obama strong-armed the Affordable Care Act through Congress, Utahns were overwhelmingly outraged by the gross overreach of the federal government. The tax increases, the mandates and the government intrusion into our lives were not the Utah way. And now proponents of Medicaid expansion in Utah are proposing more of the same.
Medicaid expansion is projected to cost Utah at least $78 million annually — and that is on top of the roughly $600 million of annual Obamacare-rooted taxpayer dollars from the federal government. To fund this new expense the Gang of Six has looked at several options, with ideas ranging from bringing back the sales tax on food to forcing insurers, hospitals, doctors, medical device manufacturers and drug providers to cover the open-ended costs.
Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as free money. If hospitals, doctors, insurers, medical device manufacturers and drug companies are forced to pay for this entitlement, they will pass these costs to Utah consumers — insurance premiums will increase and we will pay more for health care. Less than six months after increasing property and gasoline taxes $150 million a year, Utah politicians are discussing increasing the economic burden on families throughout Utah once again.
Perhaps even more disconcerting, no one really knows how many people will enroll in the expanded program. Thus, no one really knows what the actual costs might be for years to come.
The Obama administration identifies Utah as having a potential of 68,000 people that will be added by Medicaid expansion, while Utah reports show up to 126,500. The discrepancy between these numbers should give us pause — especially since other states that have expanded Medicaid have seen enrollment (and thus costs) greatly exceed the amounts they originally forecast. Nineteen states, including Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Missouri, have recognized the perils of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare and have opted out of the program. Utah should join them.
Making such an unknown and long-term financial commitment is the equivalent of writing a blank check and could put our state in peril of financial ruin. Rarely, if ever, do government programs come in under budget, particularly in the world of health care. They grow, they exceed original costs, and they do not go away. Utahns are smarter than this.
Remember, Utah is counting on roughly $600 million from the federal government to fund Medicaid expansion. That money is not there. Members of Congress have consistently told Utah’s legislators not to count on it. And it’s less likely to be there if the federal government ever does what Utahns have asked it to do for years and gets its fiscal house in order.
We need to stop looking to Washington bureaucracies (including the National Governors Association) to solve problems. Leadership does not consist of talking about fiscal responsibility at the state level, and then proposing to grab hundreds of millions of unreliable or nonexistent Obamacare dollars at the federal level. That is hypocritical and counterproductive. And it is not the Utah way.
I hope the Gang of Six remembers this before it risks Utah’s future with a blank check and broken promises.
Jonathan Johnson is the chairman of Overstock.com and a 2016 candidate for governor in Utah