Utah mulling private insurance to expand Medicaid

Utah, a Republican-dominated state that has yet to determine whether it will expand its Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, is now considering a plan similar to one in Arkansas: Using public dollars to purchase private healthcare coverage.

A special legislative task force has approved two plans to forward to lawmakers for debate, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports. One would use the federal government dollars allocated for Medicaid expansion to purchase private coverage directly. The other would use the money for those eligible for expanded Medicaid to purchase coverage on Utah's health insurance exchange.

Both plans would cover all Utah residents eligible for Medicaid expansion, about 111,000 in all, according to the Tribune.

"It is incumbent on us to come up with proposals that we think are better," Dean Sanpei, a state representative from Provo, told Fox 13 News. "Proposals that we think are sustainable and that we think will work…and I think that's what we're looking at."

Arkansas, whose statehouse is dominated by Republican lawmakers, received federal approval last October for a plan that would allow those income eligible for Medicaid to receive money to purchase coverage on the state's health insurance exchange. That approval has pushed several other Red states to pursue similar public-private hybrids for expanding Medicaid, including Iowa, which also recently received a partial waiver for its proposal.

Although Democratic lawmakers have been critical of using private payers to expand Medicaid as it may create cost issues, they find it preferable to no coverage whatsoever. To date, two dozen states have either declined to expand Medicaid or have yet to make a decision on the issue.

"This is momentum," Matt Slonaker, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, told the Tribune. "We support any momentum moving forward that will provide coverage to Utah's most disadvantaged residents."

To learn more:
- read the Salt Lake City Tribune article
- read the Fox News 13 article