- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Medicaid plan crafted by a small group of Utah’s GOP officials in closed-door meetings will get its first open hearing next week.

Leaders in Utah’s House and Senate announced the Oct. 6 hearing after releasing more details about the proposal Tuesday night, including a list of taxes that doctors and others would pay to fund the program.

The plan from Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and top GOP legislators follows three years of debate by lawmakers about whether to expand Medicaid as offered under President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.

Herbert, a Republican, has proposed a plan to take the federal government up on that offer by covering thousands of the state’s poor with private health insurance. Republican lawmakers rejected that earlier this year, saying they worried it would be too expensive for Utah and the costs could spiral out of control, among other concerns.

Since then, Herbert and top Republicans in the House and Senate have meeting secretly all summer, working on a similar plan that requires doctors, hospitals and others to help pay for the program.

The group has said that because those providers would benefit by having more insured patients, they should help pay some of the state’s cost. The federal government would still pay for most of the cost of expanding the program, about $450 million. Utah’s share would be $55 million, according to details released Tuesday night.

About $35 million of that would be paid for by raising taxes and fees on doctors, hospitals, treatment centers and more. Licensing fees doctors pay every other year would jump to about $800 in 2017, up from about $250. By 2021, the rate would climb to more than $1,000.

The Utah Medical Association has already come out against the proposal, saying that doctors shouldn’t be required to help pay the $78 million annual cost of expanding the government program. The Utah Hospital Association has said hospitals would benefit from expanding the program and are willing to help pay about $25 million, but only if other groups chip in too.

The released of the details Tuesday evening followed closed-door meetings where legislative leaders explained the plan to Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate. The meetings were closed to the public and the media, but some lawmakers spoke to reporters after.

Herbert plans to call a special session this year for lawmakers to consider the new plan. But Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, told The Salt Lake Tribune that if the proposal is shot down by lawmakers at next week’s hearing, “I don’t think we’ll be having a special session.”

Taylorsville Rep. Jim Dunnigan, one of the GOP lawmakers who worked on the plan, told the Deseret News that lawmakers may take an informal vote on the proposal at another all-GOP meeting to see if there’s support for a special session.

Democrats, who have been pushing for Utah to expand the program, have complained that they have been shut out of the process by the majority party.

There is no deadline for approval. But Utah will continue to miss out on federal money as long as it does not expand Medicaid.

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