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The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would direct the state health department to seek changes in Utah's Medicaid program from the federal government, including a work requirement for some recipients.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would direct the state health department to seek changes in Utah's Medicaid program from the federal government, including a work requirement for some recipients.

"I don’t think we are just giving a blank check to the Department of Health. We are giving them very clear guidelines to go implement the program," the sponsor of SB172, Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, said.

But several senators raised concerns.

"I've never seen a bill like this," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

Weiler said he's "a little uncomfortable" telling the state health department to come up with ideas and apply for federal waivers.

Senate Minority Assistant Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said she's concerned about the bill having a "really big impact on the way we deliver services to poor," particularly what she called the "punitive component" of the work requirement.

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The work requirement does not apply to recipients who are children, pregnant, disabled, aged, a primary caregiver or have recently left the foster care system and are under 21 years old.

The Sutherland Institute, a conservative Utah-based think tank, urged support for the bill at a recent committee hearing.

“We believe that welfare programs such as Medicaid should be designed to help people achieve a dignifying life of self-reliance through earned success, like we all strive for,” said the institute's vice president, Stan Rasmussen.

Senators voted 20-16 to send SB172 to the House.