SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is still waiting to decide whether to accept the federal government's offer to expand Medicaid, but a group of Utah lawmakers wants to let him know where they stand by passing a law prohibiting the expansion.
Republican lawmakers say the expansion offers a "false promise" of federal support.
Critics say the move is short-sighted and ignoring a detailed study of what's in the best interest for the state.
Under the health care overhaul law, the federal government has offered to pick up the full cost of Medicaid expansion in the first three years, and 90 percent over the long haul.
To date, 21 states plus Washington, D.C., have announced plans to expand their Medicaid program. Fourteen states have opted not to expand while the rest, including Utah, have not made a decision.
If Herbert decided to expand Utah's program, about 130,000 uninsured people would gain coverage under Medicaid. That's in addition to the 225,000 to 250,000 people that are currently estimated to be the program in the state.
Some of the indecision in Utah and other states about expanding stems from concerns that deficit-burdened Washington may renege on the 90 percent deal. The regular Medicaid match rate is closer to 50 percent, which would mean a significant burden of the costs would shift to the states.
The federal government's spending is "just not sustainable" and Utah cannot rely on federal dollars that may not be there for years to come, said Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, who sponsored the legislation forbidding the expansion.
If the state opts to grow its program, it will be forced to make tough spending choices down the road, Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, said during a news conference Friday.
"While there might be a short-term gain for our citizens, in the end it will be a recipe for disaster," Layton said.
Medicaid expansion would not cost the state anything in the first three years thanks to the federal reimbursement, but by 2021, it would cost the state an estimated $60 million, shows projections from the Utah office of the legislative fiscal analyst.
Whether or not the Legislature approves Anderegg's prohibition, lawmakers and the governor will be debating the issue over the next few months, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart said Thursday.
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