SB96: Bill replacing Prop. 3 Medicaid expansion draws ire

Joel Campbell
Utahns pack a hearing room Tuesday where many came to oppose SB96, a bill that would roll back some of the provisions of ballot initiative Proposition 3 to expand Medicaid coverage. (Joel Campbell)

The Utah Senate Committee passed SB96, a bill that would curtail voters’ choice of Proposition 3 for Medicaid expansion, despite citizen opposition.

Interested parties lined up at the Senate Health and Human Services Standing Committee to contribute their voices to the debate over SB96 at the Utah State Capitol, some for and some against the amendments sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.

Multiple people focused on concerns about the federal waiver needed before the expansion could be put into action, even though Christensen stated Utah can “basically count on” receiving the necessary waiver.

Stacy Stanford, a health policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project, is one opponent of repealing the original Prop. 3, which was passed by voters in November 2018.

“These waivers come with no guarantees, and they’re costing us more,” she said.

A common concern was the unreliability of the federal government’s promise to grant the waiver.

“We’re relying on a government waiver, and if you can predict the government doing anything, you’ve got a great crystal ball,” said David Heslington, a former bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Utah Democratic Health Care Caucus representative Ryan Jensen pointed out several past cases in which it took two decades after approval to implement different pieces of legislation. Waivers take time, he said, and “we could wait years.” He said he doubted the bill would actually go into effect.

Two democrats on the committee, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, Holladay, and Sen. Luz Escamilla, Salt Lake City, also expressed skepticism because no other state has received the waiver before.

“We said that last time when we passed the bill, that we could get a waiver, and we didn’t,” Iwamoto said.

Others expressed frustration and the belief that the Legislature’s reluctance to accept the original Prop. 3, even after a 53 percent majority from those who voted, reflected a lack of respect for voters. Some complained the Legislature was failing to deliver on its promises.

“The Legislature should never, ever touch a citizen’s initiative,” said Utah Grass Roots chairman Don Guymon.

Some members of the Senate agreed.

“I would rather us put into place the voter’s will … I’ve seen new voters that were so excited coming to do these initiatives, and excited to be part of the process, especially young voters, and then they see that we go backwards on our word,” Iwamoto said.

Christensen said he did not blame the public for their anger and frustration.

“I feel that many of you have been misled on what this bill was going to be, and in some cases, outright lied to and I would be mad as hell if I believed half of the stuff that had been presented to me regarding this bill,” he said.

Some supported the bill because of its goal to achieve healthcare expansion, believing it supporters were realistic about its cost.

“This topic of Medicaid expansion stirs up deep emotions on each side, and sometimes ignores the reality of how full Medicaid expansion would affect our state,” said Libertas Institute Policy Director Michael Melendez. “At this point, these types of policy decision cannot realistically be an either/or decision, full expansion or no expansion — there must be a balanced approach that takes all sides into account, and we believe this bill seeks to accomplish that.”

SB96 was praised for introducing what Guymon called “guardrails”: parameters which were not an original part of Prop. 3.

SB96 passed with a 6-2 vote; Escamilla and Iwamoto opposed. The bill will now proceed to the Senate for debate and full chamber vote.

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