SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday there may need to be changes made to the latest Medicaid expansion plan he and legislative leaders came up with after months of private meetings.
"There are concerns I have about it. There's nothing that's perfect," the governor told the Deseret News. He said, however, that shouldn't prevent action on a plan to provide health care coverage to low-income Utahns.
Herbert said he's leaving it up to legislative leaders to decide what needs to be done to make UtahAccess+ palatable to lawmakers, especially in the House, where his Healthy Utah proposal stalled in the 2015 Legislature.
"I'll rely on (House) Speaker (Greg) Hughes and legislative leadership to find that pathway forward," the governor said. "I expect that's what the legislative process is. It will probably be modified two or three times before they get to the right place."
The new plan, which relies on new taxes on health care providers to help pay for the state's eventual 10 percent share of the federal program, will get its first and possibly only public hearing Tuesday.
The Legislature's Health Reform Task Force has scheduled a three-hour meeting to discuss the proposal, set to start at 3 p.m. in Room 30 of the House Building at the Capitol complex.
Co-chairman of the task force, House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said it remains to be seen whether there will be changes to the plan he and the House speaker, a Republican from Draper, helped draft.
"I suppose I'll have a better idea after the testimony tomorrow," Dunnigan said Monday. "I'm very interested in hearing from the public and the providers. They're a very important voice in this."
But the loudest voice will likely be those of House Republicans, who hold a supermajority. Hughes has said he wants enough GOP votes to pass the plan without relying on Democrats.
Both House and Senate Republicans held closed-door caucus meetings last Tuesday to hear the plan. The House GOP will caucus again on Oct. 13, where Dunnigan said a straw poll will be taken.
The majority leader wouldn't speculate on how much support there is for the plan, expected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the state annually and provide coverage to 100,000 Utahns, including those currently without health care subsidies.
"We'll have some very valuable input on that tomorrow. But how that input plays on the legislators is what's going to be important," Dunnigan said, noting he is already receiving hundreds of emails on the plan.
The Utah Medical Association has already opposed a proposed tax on doctors, and representatives of other provider groups are likely to follow. Only the Utah Hospital Association, which will benefit from less uncompensated care, has backed a tax.
Hughes, who has declined to discuss the plan, is credited with the provider tax provision.
The governor, who had looked at a new tax on e-cigarettes as well as on hospitals to cover state costs, said turning to health care providers who can benefit from the plan "is not a bad concept."
Still, Herbert said, steps need to be taken to make it fair and proportional to ensure those taxed do see benefits and their rates are adjusted so "those who get more give more."
He said Healthy Utah was a benchmark that was embraced by the public and providers as "a common sense approach to respecting taxpayer dollars," including taxes paid by Utahns under President Barack Obama's health care law.
The governor said he believes the speaker wants to find a solution.
"Finding something that's good and puts us in a good pathway forward, I think, is possible," Herbert said. "Certainly the public wants us to do something in a positive way that brings back those taxpayer dollars that we're spending."