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Utahns Seek Ballot Initiative to Expand Medicaid Coverage

The "Utah Decides Healthcare" initiative must gather 113,143 signatures in 26 state senate districts to make it onto the November ballot. (Pixabay)
The "Utah Decides Healthcare" initiative must gather 113,143 signatures in 26 state senate districts to make it onto the November ballot. (Pixabay)
January 12, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY – Proponents of a new statewide ballot initiative are in the signature-collecting phase, and say they hope to bring local control to the health care debate.

The "Utah Decides Healthcare" proposal would expand Medicaid coverage to individuals and families in Utah with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is under $34,000 a year for a family of four.

Laura Polacheck, communications director for AARP Utah, says it would help the state's most vulnerable residents and working families – and would also help keep the doors open at rural hospitals.

"If it gets onto the ballot in November of this year, they [Utah voters] will be able to decide whether or not to expand Medicaid coverage to an additional 100,000 Utahns who currently don't have any access to affordable health care," says Polacheck.

She notes the initiative would also bring more than $700 million in Medicaid funds back into the state that Utah now sends to Washington, D.C., by refusing Medicaid expansion.

Opponents of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are concerned that Utah could be on the hook if federal Medicaid dollars dry up or if the program is cut. Critics also see it as expanding the size of government.

Polacheck believes government does have a role to play in making sure people have access to basic, affordable health care. She notes when working families don't earn enough to buy insurance, they delay treatment and frequently end up making costly trips to the emergency room.

"And this is one area where, like car insurance, where you pool resources and you spread risk across the population,” she says. “Costs would go down in so many different areas for everyone else."

The measure would increase Utah's sales tax on non-food items to raise the $91 million needed to trigger more federal Medicaid funding. Polacheck says that's less than two cents for every $10 of consumer spending.

To make it onto the November ballot, the campaign must get more than 113,000 signatures by April 16.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT