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SALT LAKE CITY — There won't be a deal on Gov. Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah alternative to Medicaid expansion this session, but the governor promised Thursday he and legislative leaders will come up with a compromise by July 31.
Just hours before the end of the 2015 Legislature, the governor said negotiations with the House and Senate that lasted throughout much of the session failed to produce an acceptable plan to provide health care to low-income Utahns.
"It's become clear to me and I think my colleagues (in the House and Senate) that we're not going to be able to find a conclusion in this session that's going to be satisfactory to us all," Herbert said. "That's disappointing to me."
But the governor said he, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and the sponsors of Healthy Utah and the House's competing plan will continue to work.
All of the participants in the latest effort to find a way to help Utahns in need of health care stood with Herbert.
A special session of the Legislature is expected to be called by the governor so that proposal can be put in place.
The governor said he was confident this new process will work.
"We do have the opportunity now, with the leaders of the respective bodies together, all committing to each other and to the people of Utah that we will find a solution," Herbert said.
Healthy Utah was first unveiled a year ago during the 2014 session. Since then, the governor has negotiated needed waivers from the federal government to use the funds available under the Affordable Care Act for a state-run plan.
But House members balked at accepting money tied to President Barack Obama's signature health care law, raising concerns about whether the federal funds offered were sustainable.
Healthy Utah became a two-year program with a price tag of $25 million to cover Utahns earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty rate, bringing hundreds of millions of federal dollars into the state.
House leaders countered with their own proposal, Utah Cares, a less expansive and more expensive plan. After the Senate passed Healthy Utah and the House passed Utah Cares, the bill sponsors continued to negotiate a compromise.
It's become clear to me and I think my colleagues (in the House and Senate) that we're not going to be able to find a conclusion in this session that's going to be satisfactory to us all. That's disappointing to me.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
Those sponsors, House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, and Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, reportedly had reached an agreement likely combining both plans, but the House speaker was said to be unwilling to accept that proposal.
Hughes has said House Republicans, who started the session wanting to do nothing on Medicaid expansion, have gone as far as they could go with Utah Cares. He told reporters earlier this week it was time for the Senate and the governor to move.
Advocates for the low-income Utahns who are waiting for the health care coverage expressed disappointment at the delay, citing a study that estimated 164 face death without it. Some 60,000 Utahns fall into the so-called coverage gap and will receive no federal subsidies without some type of expansion.
“The need is urgent," said RyLee Curtis, Utah Health Policy Project senior policy analyst. "Every few days, a Utahn will lose their life due to lack of access to health care, and every day the state of Utah is losing $800,000 of taxes that we’ve already paid.”
Alan Ormsby, Utah state director of AARP, said the "thousands of people who fall into the coverage gap will continue to suffer because of their lack of access to affordable health care. Some will die while waiting for treatment."
Ormsby said it's "truly disheartening when political posturing gets the upper hand over the outpouring of support for Healthy Utah from the public and organizations around the state."
Brook Carlisle, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network's Utah government relations director, said with more than 11,000 Utahns expected to receive a cancer diagnosis this year, "the issue is a matter of life and death for many individuals."