Watch live:

Utah GOP governor rejects full Medicaid expansion

Associated Press
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert makes remarks during Medicaid expansion news conference Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Herbert announced he wants to reject a full Medicaid expansion, and instead seek federal dollars to cover the poor. Herbert made the announcement Thursday afternoon, saying the state has an obligation to cover the poor by plugging a hole in the safety net. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
.

View gallery

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's Republican governor announced Thursday he wants to reject a full Medicaid expansion that would enroll more people in the government program, and instead, seek federal dollars to cover the poor in private plans.

Gov. Gary Herbert's decision came after months of pushing back an announcement, making him one of the last governors in the country to announce his intentions about expanding Medicaid.

Herbert, like many Republican governors, is opposed to President Barack Obama's health law but has said the state has an obligation to help the poor.

"If the federal government will just block grant us the money, take away the strings and give us maximum flexibility, we will find innovative ways to do things better," Herbert said.

About 60,000 Utah residents are not covered by Medicaid or eligible for federal subsidies to pay for private insurance.

"This flaw, this hole, is not of our own doing," Herbert said. "But I do believe we have a moral obligation to ensure that the poorest Utahns can obtain good, quality health care."

His plan would set up a three-year pilot program that would use about $250 million that Utah would have received to essentially cover all those who would fall under a full expansion. The grant money would instead help them purchase health insurance in the private market.

All participants would have co-payments. Those with slightly higher incomes would pay up to 2 percent of their monthly incomes to help pay their insurance premiums.

"That's much better than having to do it a one-size-fits-all way out of Washington, D.C," Herbert said.

The plan would cover the 60,000 falling through the gap, and then some, helping about 111,000 people.

The block-grant path is relatively unique but shares similarities with plans in other states, such as Arkansas and Iowa, which have received federal approval.

Utah, too, would have to receive a waiver from the federal government.

Mike Fierberg, a regional spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement Thursday that the agency will consider Utah's request if it's written and presented.

"We can have no comment on the existing proposals, since nothing is final, and as such any comment would be speculative," he said.

Herbert's plan appears to seek unprecedented flexibility, said Judy Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income people.

Solomon said she needs to see more details about the plan to know if the federal government would be willing to negotiate with Utah, but she said it appears to be a longshot.

"Giving money without any protections is not something that is likely to happen because the federal government has interest in how those funds are spent," Solomon said.

Under the federal health care law, states have the option of expanding eligibility for Medicaid, the state-federal program for low-income people.

If states expand the program to include people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the federal government has offered to pick up the full cost through 2016. After that, reimbursement levels will gradually fall to 90 percent by 2020.

Like other Republican governors, Herbert has resisted embracing full expansion, citing fears that the federal government may fail to keep its part of the agreement down the road.

Overall, 25 states and Washington, D.C., are expanding their Medicaid programs, while 19 others have opted not to expand. Decisions are pending in other states.

There is no deadline to decide, but states could risk losing out on federal dollars the longer they hold off.

Herbert said his plan "in many ways mirrors the Medicaid expansion" but emphasized that it is not Medicaid expansion.

Beyond federal approval, Herbert also needs to secure the support of Utah's Republican-controlled Legislature, which has less than two weeks left in its 2014 session.

In states like Arkansas and Arizona, plans to expand Medicaid have been hung up as Republican governors wrestled to get GOP-controlled Legislatures to agree to fund the plans.

In Utah, Herbert's administration has been holding closed-door talks with lawmakers to find middle ground on the issue.

Herbert's toughest battle is expected to be with Republicans in the House, who have put forward their own plan.

It rejects more than $500 million from the federal government, but would spend $30 million to $35 million in state money to cover the neediest of people living below the poverty line.

Herbert has called the plan illogical, and reiterated Thursday that Utah residents send their tax dollars to Washington, D.C., so they deserve to have them returned to their state and spent there.

In the Senate, Republicans have discussed several options but have not coalesced around a single plan.

Democrats have pushed for full expansion, saying it makes the most sense morally and financially.

"Block grants are never an entirely secure way to fund programs," said Sen. Gene Davis, a Salt Lake City Democrat. "The coverage gives us hope, but there are many details that still require approval by the federal government."

___

Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Annie Knox contributed to this report.

View Comments (98)

Recommended for You

  • Photo of Chicago police officers posing over black man as hunted animal released: newspaper

    (Reuters) - A photo of two white Chicago police officers holding rifles and posing over a black man wearing antlers like an animal killed on a hunt was released by an Illinois court, the Chicago Tribune reported on Wednesday. The news comes amid a national outcry against police treatment of…

    Reuters
  • Racist trolling casts pall over US spelling bee

    Racist trolling on social media is casting an ugly pall over, of all things, the world's foremost spelling bee. For seven years in a row, and for 11 of the past 15 years, the $30,000 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship has been won by American youngsters of Indian heritage. One of them,…

    AFP
  • California man drowns swimming across pond with rock: newspaper

    A man drowned on his 21st birthday after attempting to swim across a pond in northern California while carrying a 10-pound (4.5 kg) rock, the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday. The California Highway Patrol told the newspaper that Austin Harr was with friends at a pond in the Oroville…

    Reuters
  • Wounded woman testifies in Nevada about trespass killing

    RENO, Nev. (AP) — A female trespasser who survived a shooting in a vacant Nevada duplex testified Wednesday that the property owner entered the unit and opened fire without provocation, wounding her three times and killing a man on the floor next to her.

    Associated Press
  • US threatening 'chaos' in Asia-Pacific: China

    China accused the United States on Thursday of threatening to sow "chaos" in the Asia-Pacific region by inciting countries whose territorial claims in the South China Sea clash with those of Beijing. China is rapidly building artificial islands in the disputed waters, and US Defense Secretary…

    AFP
  • View

    Balloon animals (15 photos)

    A series of balloon animals have become super-realistic thanks to an artists amazing photoshop talents. Sarah DeRemer, 25, from Los Angeles, uses actual photos of animals faces and coats to give pictures of balloons an animal kingdom twist. She has managed to turn a balloon dog and a butterfly -…

    Yahoo News28 mins ago
  • Putin classifies information on deaths of Russian troops on special missions

    President Vladimir Putin on Thursday declared all deaths of Russian soldiers during special operations to be classified as a state secret, a move that comes as Moscow stands accused of sending soldiers to fight in eastern Ukraine. Putin, who has repeatedly denied any involvement of Russian troops…

    Reuters
  • No exit: For female jihadis, Syria is one-way journey

    PARIS (AP) — When three British schoolgirls trundled across the Syrian border; when a pregnant 14-year-old ran away from her Alpine home for the second time; when a sheltered girl from the south of France booked her first trip abroad — they were going to a place of no return.

    Associated Press
  • Baltimore residents fearful amid rash of homicides

    BALTIMORE (AP) — Antoinette Perrine has barricaded her front door since her brother was killed three weeks ago on a basketball court near her home in the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore. She already has iron bars outside her windows and added metal slabs on the inside to deflect the…

    Associated Press
  • The Statin Dilemma: a Primer for Patients

    Statins have redefined the treatment of heart disease. Statins work by halting or reducing the buildup of fatty plaque inside blood vessels, a condition known as atherosclerosis, chiefly fueled by abnormally high cholesterol and the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. A true game changer in…

    U.S.News & World Report
  • Kansas man missing for 23 years found submerged in car

    By Kevin Murphy KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Reuters) - The body of a man missing since 1992 has been recovered from the driver's seat of a car submerged in a Kansas lake, authorities said on Tuesday. Fremont O'Berg, who was 57 when he disappeared, was found alone in his 1981 Chevrolet Citation automobile in…

    Reuters
  • Play

    Police Make Example of Homeless Man Begging With $800 in Pockets

    A police department in Louisiana took issue of homelessness on their Facebook page last week in an unapologetic way, after arresting a homeless man who had $800 in cash stuffed in his pockets.

    Tribune
  • A closer look at those killed in Texas, Oklahoma weather

    At least 21 people have died in flooding and tornadoes in Oklahoma and Texas since the start of the Memorial Day weekend. A look at the lives of some of the victims:

    Associated Press
  • Mystery of holes in Swiss cheese cracked after a century

    Eureka! After about a century of research, Swiss scientists have finally cracked the mystery of the holes in Swiss cheese. Experts from Agroscope, a state centre for agricultural research, said the phenomenon -- which marks famous Swiss cheeses such as Emmental and Appenzell -- was caused by tiny…

    AFP
  • To see why Amtrak's losses mount, hop on the Empire Builder train

    By Ernest Scheyder ABOARD THE EMPIRE BUILDER (Reuters) - Its passengers are mostly silver-haired retirees, oil-field workers and a few young families gazing out the windows of Amtrak's least-profitable and third-longest line, rumbling from Chicago through eight states and on to the American West…

    Reuters
  • The Latest: Williams vs. Azarenka next at French Open

    PARIS (AP) — The Latest from the French Open:

    Associated Press20 mins ago
  • French barman sentenced after man drinks 56 shots and dies

    Clermont-Ferrand (France) (AFP) - A French barman received a suspended jail sentence Wednesday after he was convicted of manslaughter for letting a man do 56 shots during a drinking contest that led to his death. Renaud Prudhomme, 56, broke the in-house shots record last October at Starter, a bar…

    AFP