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Health Dept. releases Medicaid expansion report

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 23, 2013 at 6:42 pm •  Published: May 23, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A new report shows Medicaid will cost Utah more money whether or not Gov. Gary Herbert chooses to expand the program, but those costs could be offset by savings in other places for the state and local governments.

The Utah Department of Health on Thursday released the report, which was produced by an outside consulting group.

Utah is among a handful of states that have yet to make a decision about whether to accept the federal government's offer to expand Medicaid.

Gov. Gary Herbert had repeatedly said he wanted the report to be complete before he made a decision.

"My focus is the total cost to Utah's taxpayers," Herbert said in a statement Thursday. The report "is one part of the overall review and analysis. In this decision we are striving to find the best way to serve the people of Utah and the best way to achieve quality healthcare outcomes."

Herbert is also awaiting a report from a group of lawmakers, advocates and others meeting throughout the summer to draw up a health care roadmap for the state.

The group has identified a handful of possible options for the state and has assigned experts to look them over. They'll then present the best options for the state to Herbert by November.

The cost-benefit analysis, which conducted by Boston-based Public Consulting Group, was presented the group Thursday afternoon.

The analysis did not make a recommendation on which path Utah should choose. Instead, it laid out the costs and benefits of five scenarios, four of which involved expanding Medicaid to various degrees.

"The bottom line is that each and every scenario comes with significant costs to the taxpayer," Utah Department of Health Executive Director David Patton said in a statement. "But there are also benefits, both human and financial, and we must remain focused on finding the best way to deliver high-quality, affordable health care to Utahns."

If Herbert expands Utah's program, about 130,000 uninsured people would gain coverage under Medicaid. About 225,000 to 250,000 people in the state are currently on the program.

Under the health care overhaul law, the federal government has offered to pick up the tab for Medicaid expansion in the first three years and 90 percent over the long haul.

Herbert, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and fellow Republicans in the Utah Legislature have said they're concerned Washington may not hold up its side of the bargain in the long run because of the national debt.

Even if Utah doesn't expand Medicaid, there are mandatory changes under the health care law that would add an additional 60,000 people to the program and increase state administrative costs by $213 million over the next 10 years, according to the cost-benefit analysis. However, the mandatory changes will also generate an additional $36 million in state and local sales taxes.

The analysis found that if Utah fully expands the program, state costs will increase by $260 million over the next 10 years. The report also found that expansion would save $195 million in state and local public assistance programs, generate $203 million in state and local taxes. About 123,000 people would be enrolled in Medicaid in that scenario.

Overall the cost savings to state and local governments are significant, said Matt Slonaker with the Utah Health Policy Project, a non-partisan, nonprofit health research and advocacy organization.

"We now have the facts and figures to support the existing moral argument to expand health insurance to Utahns with no other alternative for coverage," Slonaker said in a statement.


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