Utah residents work together to create healthcare options for the state

May 28, 2013

Credit travel.utah.gov

A working group charged with looking at options for expanding health care coverage to currently uninsured Utah residents met yesterday. A number of people testified to the group about the importance of health care and insurance.

Emily Young spoke with difficulty due to metastatic breast cancer that has spread to her lungs.  

“It’s in your guy’s hands to really think of something to help people who fall through the cracks,” Young said.

The first order of business for the group was the presentation of a long-anticipated report commissioned by the Utah Health Department. The report detailed the costs and benefits of expanding Medicaid that would cover single people without children like Emily, who lost her job and insurance before the cancer recurred.

Nate Checketts with the Utah Medicaid program, spoke about the benefits of fully expanding Medicaid.  

“So the consultants are projecting over those 10 years, 123,000, over 123,000, new adults would join the Medicaid program,” Checketts said.   
Checketts said the costs to the state are projected to be $260 million over those 10 years. But Utah would end up saving $131 million dollars by fully implementing Medicaid as proposed by the Affordable Care Act.

Other options analyzed in the report include partially expanding Medicaid. In one scenario, single adults and others that currently don’t qualify could now enroll in the program. The requirement is an income under 100 percent of the poverty level rather than the 138 percent envisioned by the ACA.  

“I wasn’t sure how it would play out to do a partial expansion or what the cost impacts of a partial expansion would be,” Checketts said. “The total costs would be lower, but the state’s share will be higher.”  

The report indicates the reason partial Medicaid expansion would cost more than full expansion is because the federal government would cover less of the cost – around 70 percent instead of 100 percent for the first three years.

Jason Cooke with the non-partisan Utah Health Policy Project, said there were many assumptions made in the 143-page report and everyone is taking their time looking through the details. So far the full expansion option looks promising.  

“From strictly a financial standpoint, the study seems to suggest that the full Medicaid expansion is the best option for the state,” Cooke said.  

But for the program to be successful, there needs to be buy-in by the medical community, the policy makers and the public, he said.  

“And if the support isn’t there for the full expansion, regardless of what the numbers say, then we’ve got to find something that people will get behind,” Cooke said.   

That’s the job of the working group. They are looking at multiple options for expanding health coverage to Utah, including full Medicaid expansion, partial expansion and other unique options like charity care. The working group is expected to report back to Governor Herbert later this year.