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Utah Makes Deeper Cuts to Medicaid Expansion

AARP Utah says more than 60,000 people, including many in the 50-64 age bracket, will fall into the  health care coverage gap under the state's Medicaid expansion plan. (AlexRaths/iStockphoto)
AARP Utah says more than 60,000 people, including many in the 50-64 age bracket, will fall into the health care coverage gap under the state's Medicaid expansion plan. (AlexRaths/iStockphoto)
May 20, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY - Utah health officials are getting criticism for a proposal to widen the state's health-care coverage gap beyond what the Legislature recently passed.

The Utah Department of Health wants to limit the state's Medicaid expansion to cover only 10,000 people instead of the 16,000 in the Legislature's plan. Laura Polacek, communications director with AARP Utah, said the plan would mostly cover those who are homeless or mentally ill. Although they deserve insurance, she said, that leaves thousands of others without access to affordable health care.

"This plan covers just a fraction of the neediest people," she said. "To cover simply 10,000 people - instead of the over 60,000 people who still fall into the health-care coverage gap - we think is inadequate."

The gap mostly includes people who earn too little to qualify for assistance under the Affordable Care Act, but too much to qualify for Medicaid. Under the Legislature's plan, single adults must make less than $600 a year, and a family of three can only make about $11,000 to qualify for Medicaid.

Polacek acknowledged that it's good that some Utahns are gaining health coverage, but said the Legislature could have covered everyone in the gap at little or no extra cost. Legislative leaders have disagreed, saying they were concerned that the state eventually would bear the entire cost.

Polacek said many AARP constituents find themselves in the coverage gap.

"People who are 50 to 64, it affects very much," he said. "People do have access to Medicare when they're 65, but we have people 50 to 64 who have lost jobs, so it's difficult for them to get health care. It's really important that they have access to quality care."

She said state polls show strong public support for Medicaid expansion well beyond the current plan, and that AARP Utah hopes to work with the Legislature again next year to close the coverage gap.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT