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Partial Medicaid expansion plan passes Senate

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate voted 19-6 Monday for a partial Medicaid expansion plan that also gives Gov. Gary Herbert the ability to seek a federal block grant to pay for the proposal he rolled out last month.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, amended his SB251 to allow the governor to negotiate with Washington, D.C.

Herbert's Healthy Utah plan would seek a block grant from the federal government to cover about the same number of needy Utahns as accepting the full expansion of Medicaid offered under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Instead of receiving Medicaid, the estimated 111,000 Utahns earning less than $15,500 a year would each pay about $420 a year toward private insurance and medical expenses.

The plan has a $258 million price tag for the first year of what Herbert said would be a three-year pilot program. Legislative staff members have estimated that more than $500 million is available annually for the full Medicaid expansion.

Shiozawa's plan would help only those earning less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The estimated 54,000 Utahns in that category don't qualify for federal health care subsidies.

"We have no good options that I consider good in this arena," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, before voting for the bill. "I think this is best of the bad options before us."

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to put Sen. Gene Davis' proposal for full Medicaid expansion into Shiozawa's bill.

"It just provides full health care. No games," the Salt Lake City Democrat said.

Majority Republicans in the House have spurned any plan that takes federal money and might opt to do nothing this session.

Lawmakers have discussed coming back for a special session to deal with Medicaid.

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Dennis Romboy


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