This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It has been more than 300 days since Gov. Gary Herbert introduced his version of Medicaid expansion known as "Healthy Utah," which would have returned $446 million dollars back to the state (in the current fiscal year) and insured upwards of 90,000 Utahns.
When the 63 House Republicans met last month, many hoped it would bring closure to this now three-year long debate. Sadly, it did not. And with only seven votes in favor of an alternative proposal known as Utah Access Plus Speaker Greg Hughes demonstrated his commitment to never passing Medicaid expansion. Once again Utah's poor will suffer as House Republican leadership prioritizes politics over people.
There are 136,000 Utahns who currently find themselves stuck in the Medicaid coverage gap. Families with incomes below the federal poverty line fall into the coverage gap because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidies on the state or federal health exchanges. These adults and children live in constant fear of getting sick, forcing them to choose between either acquiring colossal medical debts or risking their health and well-being. Utah's failure to accept Medicaid leaves thousands of our neighbors, coworkers and friends left in the space nobody ever wants to find themselves: the Medicaid coverage gap.
The answer is simple: Pass Healthy Utah.
Herbert's Healthy Utah plan aims to localize our federal tax dollars by providing 136,000 people making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL) with adequate health insurance. Public support for Healthy Utah is widespread in the polls with over 80 percent of Utahns in support and a large list of local businesses, religious groups, and legislators endorsing the governor's plan.
By expanding the poverty index to 138 percent of the FPL, compared to the previous limit of 100 percent, Healthy Utah is better equipped to meet the needs of the people of Utah. The importance of quality health insurance cannot be overlooked or overstated. In Utah, 60 percent of bankruptcies are due to unpayable medical expenses.
Each day that Utah puts off passing the bill, thousands of Utahns risk getting injured or sick without any way to pay for health care. The only real "risk" to not accepting Healthy Utah is the one where 138,000 uninsured people risk getting sick or injured every day of their lives. To force a Utah citizen to sacrifice his or her health is not economically or morally acceptable when Healthy Utah would solve the problem. There is no reason any Utahn should have to suffer from a completely preventable cause when the House Republicans could fix it by passing one simple bill, Healthy Utah.
In addition, while looking at the economic benefit for individuals who are now capable of working more productively, hospitals and other health agencies will simultaneously benefit from the bill. Low-income people with health insurance would then be able to pay for the services they use. It would decrease the amount of unpaid bills hospitals deal with each year. Not only would Healthy Utah benefit our working poor, it would also help our businesses and companies.
While the House continues to pander and delay passing Healthy Utah for political reasons, thousands of people we interact with on a daily basis suffer as a consequence. Just remember what the purpose of Healthy Utah is: to insure as many uninsured, low-income Utahans as possible while bringing the most tax dollars back to the state. Healthy Utah is the right plan for Utah's future.
Kyle Eng is a senior at Rowland Hall and interns with Alliance for a Better UTAH.