SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah legislative panel has recommended three options for the future of the Medicaid program in Utah — and full expansion is not one of them.
The panel on Thursday recommended leaving the program as is or partially expanding Medicaid under two different plans.
Under the health care overhaul law, the federal government has offered to pick up the full cost of Medicaid expansion through 2016 and 90 percent after that.
Democrats want full expansion, arguing it's the right move morally and for state finances. If Utah expands, about 123,000 uninsured people would gain coverage. That's in addition to the 225,000 to 250,000 people already on the program.
But Gov. Gary Herbert and other Republican leaders in Utah have been reluctant or resistant to take up the offer, citing concerns about the sticker price and whether federal budget strains may cause Washington not to hold up its side of the agreement.
The panel's recommendations are designed to help the legislature decide during the next session. The governor is doing his own parallel research, and plans to make a decision next year after consulting with the legislature.
In addition to recommending the option of leaving Utah's Medicaid program as is, the panel offered two partial expansion options.
The first would offer Medicaid to residents at or below the federal poverty line, leaving the rest to get insurance on the new health reform marketplace, where they would likely get federal subsidies.
The other option would call for the state to use Medicaid money to help pay for private insurance for people who earn slightly more than the federal poverty line.
Even if Utah doesn't expand Medicaid, there are mandatory changes under the health care law that will bring an additional 60,000 people into the program in Utah and drive up state costs by $213 million over the next 10 years, according to an outside analysis Utah has commissioned. The study also found that the mandatory changes will generate an additional $36 million in state and local sales taxes.
Utah is among six states yet to decide on Medicaid expansion, a list that also includes Indiana, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
To date, 26 states have announced plans to expand Medicaid. That lists includes several states led by Republican governors, including Arizona and Nevada. Nineteen states, including Texas and Wyoming, had announced they won't expand.