- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Lawmakers in Utah’s House of Representatives rejected Gov. Gary Herbert’s Medicaid plan on Wednesday night and instead pushed forward their own alternative proposal to help some of the state’s poor get health insurance.

Soon after a House business and labor committee voted 4-9 Wednesday night against the Republican governor’s proposal, they turned their attention to an alternative plan from House GOP lawmakers.

That proposal covers fewer people and costs more, but supporters argue it’s more sustainable for the state.

The House committee voted 9-4 to approve that plan. That plan still needs approval form the full House, the Senate and the governor.

Herbert’s office issued a statement saying he recognized that there are sharp contrasts between the plans. “The governor looks forward to working with the Legislature on a solution…”

The two Democrats on the committee were joined by two Republicans to support the governor’s plan.

Lawmakers voting against Herbert’s proposal cited concerns that there’s no certainty about its price tag. They also said the costs to the state will be higher two years from now, when it will be tough for lawmakers to cut off the thousands who have been able to get care through the two-year program, known as Healthy Utah.

“In my opinion, passing Healthy Utah for two years with the intent of taking it away is immoral. And passing it for two years with the intent of keeping it is irresponsible,” Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, said before voting against the bill.

Lawmakers also cited concerns about the sustainability of the federal health care law, which left a gap of thousands in Utah who are ineligible for care.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, a Salt Lake City Republican who is carrying the governor’s plan through the Legislature, said he agreed with concerns about the law, but he said the governor’s plan is a short-term response to the issue. “We didn’t cause the problem. But we’re trying to fix it,” Shiozawa said.

Lawmakers considered the bill for an hour and heard comments from interest groups, doctors and members of the public.

One of those individuals was Diane Anderson, who lives in West Jordan and works at a Salt Lake City-area ski resort but does not have insurance and is ineligible for Medicaid under current Utah policy. Anderson, 58, who broke her back after Christmas while at work, told lawmakers that a program like Healthy Utah would help her pay her medical bills while she’s unable to work and appealing a denial of her application for workers compensation.

“People like me who have no anything - all we can do is just go in a corner and die,” Anderson said. “That’s really the only option we have if we have no access to health care.”

Herbert’s plan covers those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $33,500 for a family of four. In exchange for making about 126,000 Utah residents eligible for help over two years, the federal government had agreed to pay most of the program’s costs. Herbert’s office estimates the program will cost Utah $25 million over the life of the two-year program.

It mirrors similar proposals from other Republican governors pushing for a way to expand health coverage under the federal law while keeping it palatable to their right-leaning Legislatures.

House leaders instead appear to be backing an alternative proposal released Tuesday and sponsored by Taylorsville Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan.

Under Dunnigan’s alternative, Utah would cover some of the state’s very poorest under the traditional state-federal Medicaid program. All others earning below the poverty level, about $24,000 for a family of four, would be covered under a cheap state insurance program. Utah’s Primary Care Network provides doctor and dental services, prescriptions and eye exams.

According to legislative estimates, Dunnigan’s plan would cost about $32 million a year and cover about 60,000 people.

Dunnigan said his plan doesn’t do everything, but it’s a good first step.

“I think it makes sense for our conservative Utah,” he said, “To do something that we can sustain.”


Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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