The Latest: Rally for Utah Medicaid expansion draws hundreds
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Latest on the first day of the Utah Legislature (all times local):
Hundreds of demonstrators have rallied at the Utah capitol to shield a voter-approved Medicaid expansion from lawmakers’ efforts to change the measure to control costs.
Advocates told a crowd of about 300 people on Monday that changes could delay the expected April 1 rollout for months or years, leaving people without health care that could save lives.
Activist Paul Gibbs says Medicaid has been essential to kidney treatments that total tens of thousands of dollars, and his aunt died of cancer before she could be approved. He says Utah voters approved the expansion, and “no one has the right to take that away.”
State leaders who long refused to expand Medicaid said they will implement the measure that won at the ballot box, but have to make changes to control costs. They point to a state budget analysis that found the program could fall $10.4 million short by the year 2021.
Republican Senate President Stuart Adams says most Utah lawmakers are committed to fully expanding Medicaid, despite some efforts to repeal the voter-approved measure or make major changes.
But he said Monday the expansion to cover people who make up to 138 percent of the poverty line must still be done in a “fiscally prudent way.”
Exactly what that means is still up in the air, but Sen. Daniel Hemmert says lawmakers will likely tweak the measure to be something between what was passed by the voters and a full repeal.
While Democrats say the Legislature should largely leave the law alone, many Republicans are a voter-approved sales tax increase won’t cover costs.
They point to a state analysis that predicted at $10.4 million shortfall by 2021.
New Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson says that if lawmakers don’t fix the state’s tax structure, the state general fund could run short within a few years, leaving it unable to fund roads, public safety and other government programs.
Delivering his opening remarks on the first day of the legislative session Monday, he says that restructuring to tax more services will also allow the state to cut taxes overall by $225 million.
Wilson says that other major issues this year include school safety and “smart investments” on air quality and infrastructure.
New Senate President Stuart Adams urged lawmakers to work together and strive to make Utah a model state for education and air quality. He also suggested replacing the old state building on Capitol grounds with more parking.
Hours after the Utah Legislature opens its 2019 session on Monday, concerned supporters of a voter-approved measure to fully expand Medicaid are planning a rally to ask lawmakers not to change the law.
Stacy Stanford with the Utah Health Policy Project says changes could delay the expected April 1 rollout for months or years, leaving people longer without health care.
State leaders have said they plan to implement Medicaid expansion, but want to make changes to control costs. Some of those changes, like enrollment caps or work requirements, could require a lengthy federal approval process.
Advocates got the issue on the ballot after the GOP-dominated legislature refused to fully expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, citing cost concerns.
The rally is set for Monday afternoon.