On Monday, the Utah House of Representatives rallied around a bill to prohibit the governor from accepting a federal offer to expand Medicaid coverage. Now, with just two days left in the session, this complicated measure, House Bill 391, goes to the Senate for a hasty review.
Refusing to go along with the optional expansion, which would cover people who now subsist above -- but dangerously close to -- the poverty line, is a popular battle cry among those who are still bitter about the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. They say the plan adds to the federal government's overhead and while it may temporarily ease pressure on the state treasury, they say the increased costs will ultimately bounce back to the state.
And they may be right.
While the potential social benefits of extending Medicaid coverage to more people who are currently without heath care, are hard to argue against, the fiscal impacts have not yet been fully calculated. That is why the governor has withheld his own verdict on the issue.
Gov. Herbert has previously stated that he wants to conduct a detailed study before ruling on whether the state will go along with the expansion or come up with its own plan.
Hopefully the senate will overrule the House's knee-jerk bill and will allow the study to go forward. Then the governor may be better able to make a well researched, thoughtful decision.
One glaring tip off that the House discussion of HB 391 had veered into fantasy rather than fact was Representative Michael Kennedy's claim that the health care gap could be patched up with a little volunteerism - about 12,000 hours a week worth of charity care from private physicians. Apparently Kennedy hasn't been told that Medicaid patients are finding it hard enough to find anyone willing to take them on as patients because of Medicaid's lower reimbursement rates. If doctors won't do it for less, it doesn't seem likely they will do it for free.
As of March 1, 24 states had opted to participate in the federal government's Medicaid expansion plan. Fourteen had decided to opt out and the rest, including Utah, were still on the fence.
As we said, it's complicated. Each state should weigh the costs and benefits carefully. But rushing to judgment in the last hectic hours of the legislative session is definitely not the time to make this important decision.