- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The latest attempt to help more of Utah’s poor get health insurance failed Tuesday night when Republicans in Utah’s House of Representatives rejected a plan to expand Medicaid in the state.

Members of the House Republican caucus discussed the issue behind closed doors Tuesday evening and only seven of 63 members endorsed the plan.

A small group of GOP officials crafted the proposal in secret meetings this summer after House Republicans rejected a similar plan from Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this year.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, was one of the six GOP officials who crafted the plan and told reporters Tuesday night that he was one of seven votes in favor of the plan.

Hughes and other Republican leaders said they didn’t know how lawmakers would move forward on the issue.

Utah lawmakers are grappling with how to pay for the program and keep costs from spiraling out of control, Hughes said, but added that he thinks the issue won’t go away and legislators will go back to the drawing board.

“I do believe there is political will to provide care for the needy,” Hughes said.

Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said he didn’t vote for the plan because the state already struggles to pay for children and others currently covered by Medicaid in Utah.

The latest proposal would have taxed doctors, hospitals and others to may most of Utah’s $55 million cost to help thousands buy private health insurance or traditional Medicaid coverage.

Herbert had said he wanted to call lawmakers into a special session this year to approve the plan.

Aimee Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor, said Tuesday night the Utah’s poorest would continue to struggle until the state’s leaders agree on the issue.

Edwards said Herbert still believes his plan that was rejected earlier this year is the best proposal for the state.

The plan killed Tuesday night would help poor residents get health insurance mostly through private insurance plans. The federal government would chip in about $450 million, and doctors, hospitals and others would help pay most of Utah’s share though higher taxes and fees.

It would have covered those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $33,000 a year for a family of four.

Herbert and other GOP officials who crafted the plan said those providers would benefit by having more insured patients and therefore should help pay for it. Doctors and other medical groups opposed to the idea.

Democrats have criticized the Republican backroom dealings, saying the issue should be debated openly so they, members of the public and experts can weigh in.

Rep. Brian King of Salt Lake City, the leading Democrat in the House, called it “political incompetence” and said Democrats represent a key voice in the state.

“What is happening behind those doors is undemocratic, and does not remotely symbolize the values of Utah,” King said.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, called it “a red-letter day for stupidity.”

Democrats have advocated for Utah to expand the program, saying it will return taxpayer money to the state and help save lives.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion argue that even if Utah walks away, bypassing millions in federal money, the state will still need to grapple with thousands of its poor going without health care.

Any plan that Utah’s Legislature and governor approve must also be approved by federal health officials.

There is no deadline to approve a Medicaid plan, but Utah misses out on federal money and thousands of its residents remain unable to afford insurance unless the state expands Medicaid.

___

Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to this report.


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