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Low-key negotiations on Medicaid expansion continued among the House, Senate and Gov. Gary Herbert's office Wednesday, but no one was placing odds on a compromise before the legislative session ends at midnight Thursday.
"I remain optimistic," said Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights.
"We continue to be optimistic," said Marty Carpenter, Gov. Gary Herbert's spokesman.
"We are still optimistic that good things can still happen," said House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, was not so optimistic, but struck a realistic tone: "I'm not sure we can get there. It's very challenging."
Niederhauser said if nothing else, the last-minute negotiations will lead to a compromise that could scaffold a special session on Medicaid expansion.
"I'm not giving up hope, but probably the chance is greater that this continues on," Niederhauser said.
Medicaid expansion the governor's Healthy Utah plan vs. the House's Utah Cares plan has consumed a huge expanse of the 2015 Legislature's bandwidth.
The prospect of a special session on Medicaid, however, was growing by the hour Wednesday as lawmakers considered the complexity of redrafting bills and finding money in the session's final hours.
Both sides insisted this week that they had already budged on how and how much to extend medical coverage to the poor. Each insisted it was up to the other side to make concessions.
Meanwhile, the House was still holding onto its Utah Cares bill late Wednesday afternoon. The House passed HB446 last Friday after rejecting SB164, the Healthy Utah bill that Shiozawa sponsored.
But Hughes said Wednesday he was hoping for some compromise before sending the House bill over.
Niederhauser said Utah Cares likely would be substituted or killed but not passed by the Senate.
"I just don't think it has the votes," he said.
Utah Cares would cover those in the Medicaid coverage gap by expanding both traditional Medicaid and the state's Primary Care Network (PCN), a bare-bones program. Medicaid would serve 22,000 more low-income Utahns and PCN would have enough money to cover 24,500 more adults next year.
The cost would be $25 million in the first year, and between $65 million and $77 million for the first two years.
Healthy Utah would extend health care coverage to an estimated 89,000 next year, most of them via private health insurance plans or by helping them pay for insurance offered by their employers.
It would save Utah about $1 million in the first year, because the Obama administration would pick up 100 percent of the early costs, but would cost $25 million for the first two years.
Logan Republican Sen. Lyle Hillyard, co-chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee, cautioned Wednesday that two things work against a late compromise: finding the money once the budget is set and expecting legislative staff to write new legislation at the snap of a lawmaker's fingers. "There comes a deadline with them," he said.
"If it isn't in by tonight, it is almost impossible to do another bill and get it out," Hillyard said Wednesday.