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As Legislators Propose Amendments To Medicaid, Hundreds Protest On Day One Of Legislature

Hundreds of people rallied at the Utah Capitol Monday in support of Medicaid expansion, as outlined in Proposition 3, as well as in support of respecting the will of voters when it comes to ballot initiatives. KPCW’s Emily Means has more.

So far, two proposals to either amend or replace the full Medicaid expansion approved by 53% of voters—and a majority of House and Senate districts—during the November election have emerged in the first days of the state legislative session. Senate Bill 96, sponsored by District 19 Republican Sen. Allen Christensen, would place caps on enrollment and require approval by the federal government for a waiver request. The other piece of legislation, Lehi Republican Jake Anderegg’s Senate Bill 97, simply states it will repeal the Medicaid program in Utah, as outlined by the Affordable Care Act.

People’s Clinic of Park City Executive Director Beth Armstrong attended the rally. She says last year, the clinic provided health care to about 10-thousand uninsured patients in Summit and Wasatch Counties. So, if Medicaid makes it out of the legislative session untouched, Armstrong predicts a reduction in clinic visits, because more people will have access to coverage. But she’s concerned about hints that work requirements will be imposed upon those seeking to qualify for Medicaid. Most people at the clinic work, she says, and still don’t have access to insurance.

“Speaking from the clinic perspective, more than 93% of all of my patients are employed with at least one job; more than half of those are employed at two or three jobs," Armstrong said. "We’re not talking about insuring people who are unemployed, we’re talking about insuring hardworking people in our communities who are trying to raise themselves out of poverty.”

The argument against fully expanding Medicaid in Utah mostly boils down to budget—analysts from the state argue that, a few years down the road, funding for the program will fall short; and at the end of the day, the state is required by its constitution to balance the budget. Stacy Stanford from Utah Health Policy Project, one of the biggest proponents of Prop 3, says there’s at least money in the budget to support it for the next two years, because of the voter-approved tax increase that accompanied the expansion, and then lawmakers and health care advocates can address funding going forward.

“Our argument is, like other pieces of law that might be not funded as much as we think, or things like the prison that have huge cost overruns later on—those things are allowed to go into effect without a lot of argument," Stanford said. "Why when it comes to health care coverage is there such a huge debate? Let’s let it roll out, and then there are conversations we can have. Advocates are willing to discuss changes that can address the cost without reducing care.”

Both SB 96 and 97 are scheduled to be heard Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by District 26 Sen. Ron Winterton.   

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.