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Proposition 3: Medicaid expansion on the ballot

SALT LAKE CITY — A ballot initiative to expand Medicaid coverage in Utah is one of seven different non-candidate issues before voters as they cast ballots this November.

A new study released by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office finds nearly 20 percent of low-income people in states which did not expand Medicaid passed up needed medical care because of the cost.  And Utahns will decide this year whether to expand the program.

It’s estimated Proposition 3 would add around 150,000 Utah residents to the Medicaid program, which provides medical insurance for low income and disabled individuals.  Eligible people earn under 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or less than $17,000 per year.

Opponents of Prop. 3, including Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, say the expense of expanding the program should give all voters pause.

“Medicaid is the budget-buster of all budget-busters in our state budget. It should be a concern if you care about balancing the budget and being fiscally prudent,” Herbert says.

Herbert signed a different bill into law in March that was aimed at expanding Medicaid coverage to an estimated 60,000 Utahns next year. That bill, which directed the state Department of Health to apply for a waiver from the federal government by Jan. 1, was supported by fiscal conservatives who wanted to do Medicaid expansion the “Utah way.” It amounted to a partial expansion of Medicaid, up to 100 percent of the poverty level. Opponents argued the federal government was likely to reject it because U.S. health care law requires Medicaid to be available to people up to 133 percent of the poverty level.

Supporters of Prop. 3, perhaps ironically, include the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, which concluded the program would be fiscally sound and enable Utah taxpayers to expand health care access while promoting individual responsibility.

A former state senator and emergency physician who now serves as a regional director for President Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Dr. Brian Shiozawa, also supports the initiative.

If Proposition 3 passes, it would raise sales tax from 4.7% to 4.85% on non-food items and bring in $800 million in federal money which is already set aside from Washington D.C.  Currently, 33 other states receive federal funding from their expanded Medicaid programs.