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Senate Republicans held a closed-door caucus Tuesday to discuss how, or whether, to help Utahns who are too poor to qualify for federal health-insurance subsidies, but still are unable to qualify for Utah's Medicaid program.
Senators emerged saying they remain split.
"We took no position. We took no votes," said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. "We just had great questions asked, and tough questions asked from all sides of the spectrum."
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said he personally is supporting the Healthy Utah plan developed by Gov. Gary Herbert.
"My objective is to find a way to cover the gap, those who are not insured. Right now there is really only one viable possibility. That is the Healthy Utah proposal, but I am not shutting the door on other options that might come and meet that coverage gap," he said.
Senate Republicans heard presentations on the Healthy Utah plan, to help those in the coverage gap who earn up to 138 percent of poverty, and an alternative by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, to cover only the most needy of adults below the poverty level dubbed "Frail Utah" for the most medically vulnerable.
Christensen said a third option pushed by ultra conservatives is to do nothing, and have no Medicaid expansion at all.
Okerlund said the Senate at this point will let all bills move forward to committees through the normal process. "If they get out of committee, they'll come to the floor and I believe we will have some great debates."
Christensen, a retired dentist, told reporters that estimates project that Healthy Utah would cost the state $78 million through 2021, and his "Frail Utah" would cost $28 million.
Christensen, who chairs a budget committee overseeing funding for social services, said if Healthy Utah is funded, many other requests for additional social-service spending will not receive money.
"I have about $100 million worth of requests in social services. Healthy Utah under the current proposal would take every available dollar from everywhere. It would leave nothing for all those other people," he said.
But Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, a doctor who is sponsoring the Healthy Utah bill, said it would bring in far more federal money for the needy than would Christensen's alternative.
He said under Frail Utah, "We might leverage back $300 million to $330 million, whereas under the Healthy Utah plan we would almost 10 times that, $3.2 billion" through 2021. "That's a significant benefit to the state of Utah that will go to hospitals, providers, to the general economy."
Christensen said his plans would save money by not extending coverage to those "who can possibly get by without it, like they have done forever."
He added, "They have never been entitled to health care or Food Stamps or so many other social programs that are out there. I have been called a significant number of names for my cold-hardheartedness."
Okerlund said Senate Republicans did not vote on whether to hold a proposed joint closed-caucus with the House on the issue. House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, has said the House plans its own caucuses on the issue next week.