Legislature frittering away chance to expand Medicaid

Friday, Jun. 20, 2014
Legislature frittering away chance to expand Medicaid + Enlarge
By The Most Rev. John C. Wester
Bishop of Salt Lake City

Right now an opportunity to protect the dignity and sanctity of human life in Utah is being squandered by legislators who refuse to act in a morally responsible manner.
In the name of politics, Utah Legislators continue to block tens of thousands of Utahns from access to healthcare coverage. Utah, home of phenomenal levels of volunteerism and charity, is one of four states that remain undecided about expanding Medicaid. Governor Gary Herbert has proposed a potential solution that would provide at least some of the necessary coverage, while maintaining the fiscally conservative values of the state. Despite his ongoing and productive discussions with the federal Health and Human Services administration, Utah’s Republican Legislators continue to say no to any plans that would protect human health. 
Legislators claim the issue requires more study. This comes after a year of study that included paying an outside firm to research the potential costs and benefits of various expansion scenarios, convening experts of all stripes, and running simultaneous task forces – one from the executive branch and one in the legislative branch – to consider all options. The results of these multiple efforts have all been in support of expanding Medicaid in some form. Despite all of the expert advice, Republican leadership in the Legislature refuses to accept the realities, the facts, the numbers, and asks for more studies. In essence, leadership is holding its breath until it gets its way.
Legislative recalcitrance might be of little concern if there weren’t thousands of Utahns suffering in the meantime. Whatever games legislators want to play, they are doing so with people’s lives. While they push for political points, low-income Utahns continue to get sick; continue to suffer from treatable, preventable diseases that without treatment become catastrophic.  In a state that proudly proclaims its pro-life beliefs, denying readily available healthcare coverage to thousands does not promote the sanctity and dignity of life. It is imperative that we as a state provide health care to our low-income working families who otherwise are unable to afford it.  
What points legislators think they will gain by refusing to return Utahns’ federal tax dollars to the state in the form of Medicaid coverage for low-income workers is unclear. Polls show a majority of Utahns support expansion. While there is a vocal minority that regularly expresses distrust of the federal government in general, legislators could be on the forefront explaining why such paranoia is insufficient to deny health care to our citizens. They could easily explain the financial benefits of Medicaid expansion – benefits that are detailed in the Medicaid expansion study commissioned by the state, the questionable morality of refusing coverage, and the long term positive impacts on economic development and overall quality of life inherent in a healthy population. Instead, they continue to hem and haw as very real individuals suffer.
Legislators speak often and eloquently about our rights. Access to health care is a basic human right.  Without it, low-income individuals are left to rely on expensive emergency room care. Worse, these same individuals lack real options for consistent and long-term care for chronic illnesses and preventative care to maintain their health, and thus their ability to work and attend school.
The Catholic Church believes that “it is the proper function of authority to ... make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life” which includes access to health care. Utah cannot proclaim itself a pro-life state so long as it refuses to provide access to basic health care coverage to a significant portion of its citizens.  

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