State voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to extend health coverage to some 150,000 low-income residents by expanding Medicaid to people who exceed the current financial eligibility bar.
Guess what’s turning 50? For many AARP members who know that milestone well, it’s a program that is invaluable for their health and financial independence. Medicare turned 50 on July 30. Former President Harry S. Truman received the first Medicare card immediately after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, and since then it has helped redefine “real possibilities” for many Americans, often freeing them from the fear of devastating medical bills that could jeopardize their individual and economic survival.
As I have read the headlines about Healthy Utah over the last week, I have been reminded of Mark Twain’s famous quote “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” While the House did vote down the Senate’s version of Healthy Utah, they sent a much weaker expansion bill (HB 446) to the Senate. Even the sponsor of that bill described the health coverage it provides to driving a Yugo. This makes no sense, as Utahns have already paid for the Cadillac through federal taxes, but are being asked to take the Yugo instead. We are now working with the Senate to use that bill to find a compromise where Healthy Utah is the ultimate outcome.
With the Utah House failing to support SB164 Healthy Utah during a committee hearing Wednesday night—advancing HB446 Utah Cares instead—hundreds rallied at the capitol Thursday, March 4, in support of Governor Herbert’s bill. AARP Utah State Director joined legislators, religious leaders, citizen advocates, and health professionals to ask, "What's the hold up?" His comments are below:
Back in the 1940s AARP's founder, retired educator Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, found a former teacher living in a chicken coop because she could afford nothing else. Dr. Andrus couldn’t ignore the need for health and financial security in America and set the wheels in motion for what would become AARP. She also pioneered the idea of insuring teachers as a group to make coverage accessible and affordable, approaching 50 different insurance companies before she found one that would go along with this concept. The belief that access to affordable, quality health care insurance is an American ideal drives AARP to continue this fight today.
Medicaid expansion is still a hot potato issue in Utah, with the Utah Legislature failing to agree what if any expansion should occur in the state for the program. Medicaid is a federal program run by the states that provides health care coverage to the lowest income Americans. In order to qualify in Utah, you not only have to be low income, but you must also fall into a category of eligibility such as being a pregnant women, a child, a senior or disabled. Unfortunately, there are many lower-income adults and parents in Utah who don’t qualify for coverage because they don’t fit into one of the categories. They also don’t qualify for a subsidy on the new health insurance marketplace because they don’t earn enough. These roughly 57,000 Utahns fall into the “coverage gap” and would benefit from a Medicaid expansion.
The 2014 legislative session ended on March 13, and while there is still plenty of work to be done – especially in the area of Medicaid expansion – AARP had a successful session advocating for older Utahns. Here is a rundown of what took place:
In breaking news, the Senate passed legislation allowing Governor Herbert to negotiate with the federal government for a block grant that would essentially cover people up to 138 percent of poverty. Though not an expansion of the Medicaid program, this grant would allow those up to the full expansion category to purchase private insurance with federal funding. The House has yet to vote on this plan, and passed an expansion version in committee that would use a much smaller amount in state dollars to cover fewer people. Though the federal government must give Utah a waiver for the Governor's plan, it is a breakthrough on receiving federal funding.
As you may have heard, there is a lot of news related to the Medicaid expansion. A Senate committee passed a bill that would partially expand health coverage meaning those living below the poverty level could get access to health insurance. But the federal government has said states need to expand up to 138% of the federal poverty level in order to get the enhanced match funds that have been offered. Just yesterday, Governor Herbert presented his plan to cover all Utahns below 138% of the federal poverty level. While there are still some wrinkles in the plan that need to be ironed out, we are encouraged by the fact that the Governor is proposing a plan that would cover the entire expansion population with an insurance that provides a good benefit to Utahns. We are looking forward to getting more details on the plan, how it would work and shaping it as it moves forward.
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