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Utah Gets Federal OK for Full Medicaid Expansion Plan

Starting Wednesday, about 60,000 more Utahns will become eligible for full Medicaid coverage after more than a year of wrangling over the program. (maxiporik/AdobeStock)
Starting Wednesday, about 60,000 more Utahns will become eligible for full Medicaid coverage after more than a year of wrangling over the program. (maxiporik/AdobeStock)
December 30, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY - Thanks to the state's "fallback plan," about 60,000 more Utahns will become eligible for Medicaid benefits on Wednesday.

Federal officials last week approved a waiver for the state that includes a full Medicaid expansion with work-reporting requirements. That comes almost a year after Utah voters approved Proposition 3, an initiative directing the state to accept a full Medicaid expansion.

However, state lawmakers overturned that vote and replaced it with a plan to install a partial expansion.

Stacy Stanford is a health policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project. She says federal officials rejected the partial expansion, triggering a contingency or fallback plan that is part of SB 96, the enabling legislation.

"Full Medicaid expansion makes it so the only thing needed to qualify is to be poor enough," says Stanford. "Utah has done that with some strings attached. So, if your income is low enough, you're in - if you can meet the work reporting requirement."

The expansion extends coverage to individuals making less than $17,000 a year, or families earning up to $35,000.

However, advocates such as the Utah Health Policy Project say work requirements could bump about 7,500 or more Utahns from the rolls.

"They're kind of giving care with one hand but taking it away from some people with the other," says Stanford. "Because these work requirements we've seen in the only state where it's been implemented - in Arkansas - that 18,000 people lost their health insurance. "

Utah officials were paying 32% for the partial Medicaid program, but the state will receive the 90% - 10% match rate, and will cover more individuals at a lower cost.

Stanford says the battle to expand Medicaid has cost Utah's taxpayers a lot.

"Utah has lost an estimated $5.5 billion in federal tax dollars that we have paid but not regained by delaying the expansion," says Stanford. "And then we've also lost so many human lives. There is a real human cost to this."

Stanford says her group and others will continue to fight against unnecessary waiver provisions sought by the state that do not contribute toward public health and make it harder for Utahns to get care.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT