SALT LAKE CITY — Utah officials aren't making changes to the plan to expand Medicaid and institute a work requirement, despite a federal judge halting a similar effort in Kentucky last month, they said Wednesday.
The state is awaiting federal approval for its proposal and wouldn't change course unless directed by the federal government, state Medicaid and Health Financing Director Nathan Checketts said.
"We're looking to them if they're going to revise that guidance in any way, and we'll make a decision at that point how we'll modify, if any, to meet that request," he said after a meeting with state lawmakers.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., last month halted Kentucky's first-in-the-nation experiment with job requirements for Medicaid, ruling the state could not require people to be employed to keep their benefits. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said President Donald Trump's administration didn't adequately consider how the requirement could cause tens of thousands of people to lose coverage.
The ruling was seen as a potential warning for states, including Utah, that have eyed enacting similar requirements for Medicaid, the federal-state health program for low-income and disabled people.
Earlier this year, Utah's Legislature approved a limited Medicaid expansion that included a work requirement and a cap on the state's spending. The program needs approval from the Trump administration before it can go into effect.
Even if the administration decided to back off from its past support of Medicaid work requirements following the judge's ruling, it wouldn't need to block Utah's Medicaid expansion, said state Rep. James Dunnigan, a Republican and chairman of the health reform task force. The administration could allow the expansion to go forward without the work requirement, he said.
"It's not an all-or-nothing," he said.
The state's plan would cover roughly 70,000 additional low-income people living below the federal poverty level, or $12,140 annually for an individual.
President Barack Obama's landmark Affordable Care Act called for states to raise the threshold for Medicaid to people earning 133 percent of the poverty line.Comment on this story
Utah officials have asked the Trump administration to rule on their plan by November, when voters statewide will weigh in on a separate, broader Medicaid expansion plan that's closer to the program envisioned by the health care reform law.
The ballot initiative would expand Medicaid to cover an estimated 150,000 more people. It does not include a work requirement.
Supporters of the initiative say Utah's current law is too narrow.
"We saw the Kentucky decision coming and we see a similar decision coming down for Utah eventually," said Stacy Stanford, a policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project. "Therefore it's really just providing a false hope to people who are desperate for coverage."