- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - After several years of Utah legislators rejecting plans to expand Medicaid, a small but bipartisan group of lawmakers endorsed a proposal Monday that could win favor from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The plan comes from Rep. Jim Dunnigan, who serves as majority leader of Republicans in Utah’s House of Representatives, who have rejected several plans in past years endorsed by the governor and Senate.

The House GOP has rejected past plans, citing fears that the state’s share of the cost could balloon and Washington may not follow through on its offer to pay for the program down the road.

Under President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, Washington will pick up most of the cost if states open up the programs to help more of the poor. In Utah, that includes about 60,000 people who currently are ineligible for Medicaid or federal help paying for coverage.

The latest plan from Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, would insure mostly childless adults who are homeless or in programs such as parole, probation or treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues.

It passed its first test before a committee Monday evening and now awaits a vote from the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

The program would cover about 16,000 people and cost Utah about $30 million, but about $14 million of that would be paid for through a tax on hospitals.

The Utah Hospital Association said hospitals would benefit and are willing to chip in. They’d get stuck with fewer unpaid bills if more people are insured.

The federal government would kick in about $70 million to cover the rest.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said last week that he believes Dunnigan’s plan has a good chance of passing in Utah’s Senate.

Critics of the plan, mostly left-leaning groups and some Democrats, say it doesn’t help enough people and that Utah would be walking away from millions that the U.S. government has offered to insure more of the state’s poor. But the plan is picking up support from two key Democrats - Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams - and two Democratic lawmakers voted in favor the plan Monday evening.

When asked about Dunnigan’s plan, Gov. Gary Herbert said he’d rather pass a plan instead of continuing to fight about the issue.

“It’s certainly better than zero,” Herbert said Thursday. “It’s not what I would have liked to have had.”

Herbert spent months negotiating with federal officials for an alternative plan that would scoop up the money offered under the health law but cover more than 100,000 people.

The Senate approved the plan but the House rejected it last year.

Other lawmakers have introduced alternative Medicaid plans this year, but most have not yet had a hearing.

A Democrat proposal pending in the Senate would take up the full offer from Obama’s law, but it’s unlikely to pass the full Senate or House.


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