SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Tuesday he's asked the federal government to handle the newly mandated health insurance exchange for individual consumers while allowing the state to continue to run a similar program for small businesses.
Herbert's announcement came after he spent nearly an hour meeting in Washington, D.C., with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about what Utah needed to do to comply with the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
The governor told reporters in a conference call that the response he received from the secretary was that the administration "wants to find a way to get to yes." He said he expects another meeting with Sebelius on the issue within the next 10 days.
Herbert said the decision to seek to leave the individual portion of the exchange for the federal government to run was made in conjunction with lawmakers and representatives of the insurance industry.
"We're united on this effort," he said. "We believe this is the way the state of Utah should go forward."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, had been adamantly against the state taking on any new responsibilities as a result of President Barack Obama's health care reform law. Lockhart reiterated her opposition in her opening address to the House last week.
The governor had indicated in correspondence with Sebelius that providing comparison shopping for individuals looking for health insurance was a state function under the new law.
Tuesday, he said the state doesn't want to enforce the individual mandate required by the law or administer Medicaid through the state exchange.
"That will be the federal government's responsibility," Herbert said.
He called his proposal a "win-win," saying "it allows Utah to stay true to its principles and objectives."
Utah, the governor said, "has been an example of good health care for a long time. We have a lot to lose."