Utah senators gave the final signoff Monday to a bill that replaces a voter-approved full Medicaid expansion initiative with one that is more restrictive, initially more costly, and contingent on a series of uncertain federal concessions. Lawmakers say the bill is more economically sound over the long term.
Senators voted 22-7 to adopt the House version of SB96, which launches a partial medicaid expansion April 1 and would revert to full expansion only in the event that federal administrators reject multiple requests for Affordable Care Act waivers.
“I think we’re doing the long-term responsible thing,” said bill sponsor Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, “which we are bound by the [state] constitution to do.”
The bill was opposed by all six Senate Democrats and one Republican, Woods Cross Sen. Todd Weiler, matching Senate votes on earlier iterations of the Medicaid expansion replacement bill.
“We’re still not giving the people of Utah what they voted for,” said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City. “We could do this the other way.”
But some Republicans who oppose Medicaid expansion see the bill as the lesser of two evils. On the Senate floor Monday, Lehi Republican Sen. Jacob Anderegg repeatedly stated he “hates” SB96, and said those who support expanding Medicaid are really motivated by a desire to establish universal public health care.
And universal health care, Anderegg said, would be “the worst thing that could possibly happen to us.”
“I hate [SB96], but I’m going to vote for it because I don’t have any other options,” Anderegg said. “And yet on the same account I fully acknowledge and concede that this will, in spirit of the law, meet most of what Prop 3 meant to people.”
Gov. Gary Herbert has already signaled his support, but it was not immediately clear when he plans to sign the legislation. SB96 passed both the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities, which also precludes supporters of Proposition 3 from attempting to overturn the law through a referendum.
Monday’s vote was criticized as “insulting” by the United Utah Party, a centrist political organization that aims to appeal to disaffected voters from both major parties.
In a statement, United Utah Party Chairman Richard Davis said lawmakers had ignored research showing the economic value of a healthy population, and that their action on SB96 would erode voter confidence.
“If anyone wonders why so many people become cynical about politics,” Davis said, “all they have to do is look at what the Legislature did to Proposition 3.”
Utah voters approved three initiatives in November, dealing with medical marijuana, Medicaid and independent redistricting. With Monday’s vote, lawmakers have significantly altered two of those initiatives, with the third — Prop 4 — likely to face legal challenges, legislative amendments, or both.
Asked when lawmakers would turn their attention to Proposition 4 and redistricting, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said it’s already a subject of discussion but that there is time before the next round of electoral map-drawing, which occurs after the 2020 census.
“I think there are questions about Prop 4 and constitutionality,” Adams said.
Adams said it is to be expected that any law, whether passed through legislation or a ballot initiative, will undergo adjustments, potentially in perpetuity.
“We’ll be working with cannabis or marijuana for the rest of our lives,” Adams said. “Once we have a statute — a referendum or a bill in front of us — we’re going to keep working on it, probably forever.”
The Salt Lake Tribune will update this story.