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Op-Ed: Please, governor, don't deny Utah its Medicaid expansion

Published October 26, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Gov. Gary Herbert,

Lead us, please. You are the sole decider on whether Utah will accept the $440 million dollar Medicaid expansion — or not. You and you alone. This is clearly the most important decision of your tenure as governor.

You have spent months and months commissioning reports and studies. Lots of studies. Lots of reports — and lots of money. Other governors decided long ago. Republican governors like Arizona's Jan Brewer, New Jersey's Chris Christie, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, and Rick Scott of Florida have all decided it would be foolish for their state turn down millions of dollars in health care insurance.

In the meantime, as you continue to dither and stall, millions of dollars earmarked for Utah families are disappearing. If we are not ready for the January roll-out, it will cost the state tens of millions of dollars a month.

I am sympathetic to the movement that has occurred within your party — we've all seen the push to the right, and we all know you are a target. I understand that, politically, you need to protect your right flank. But this is too important an issue to be left to the political calculators.

What's at stake is access to health care for tens of thousands of everyday working Utahns, and the pocketbooks of the insured Utahns who must currently foot their bills. Frankly, with ideology and politics left out of the equation, there is little argument against taking Utah's fair share of Medicaid.

I know you understand the facts: Utah taxpayers are going to pay for the expansion. It is coming out of our paychecks in our taxes. Whether we accept the money or not, we will pay.

There is a check for $433 million with Utah's name on it. It arrives in January. If we send it back, other states will divvy up Utah's share. So, the issue is: Who will get this added affordable insurance coverage? Will it go to our Utah families, or will our tax dollars go to help more rural Arizonians get coverage?

Accepting the funds would provide health care insurance for 123,000 Utah family members who are struggling. We're talking about families of four making less than $28,000 a year. Families that simply cannot buy other insurance. Families that, when they get desperate, go to expensive emergency rooms. Families that, if you accept expansion, will be able to get care, and it will be from inexpensive clinics, rather than taxpayer-funded ER's.

Morality aside, accepting the expansion makes economic sense. Five thousand full-time medical jobs. A three-year infusion of $1.2 billion to Utah. An economic impact equal to Hill Air Force Base. It is the ultimate in economic development — a high priority of yours, and an area for which you deserve praise.

These hundreds of millions will come to Utah with the feds paying 100 percent for the first three years (then for the next 10 years, a minimum of 90 percent ). At the most, over the next decade, we will pay just 10 percent of the cost.

Governor, we are sending this money from Utah to Washington. Does it make sense to not take our money back? In my business we have a rule: If someone offers you more than a billion dollars, take it.

On the negative side, maybe Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are right; perhaps expansion will bring about the end of the world. But maybe not.

Governor, Utah is paying the fiddler. Let's listen to the music. If expansion is "out of tune," Utah can drop it in three years. But maybe, just maybe, like Medicare and Social Security, it will work.

But the most important thing, Governor, more than anything else, is that you must make a decision. Up or down. If you decide to dither for a year or two before signing on, it is not without cost. We will miss out on billions of dollars, and your delay will continue to torment the tens of thousands of Utah families who have no where else to turn, and who are waiting with baited breath to find out what you have decided for them.

Gov. Herbert, lead us!

Jim Dabakis is a Utah state senator and chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.






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