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Healthy Utah is the state's most practical solution for now

The Healthy Utah program, while not perfect, takes important steps forward, replacing Medicaid with private-sector health insurance and placing recipients automatically in the state’s work programs.
The Healthy Utah program, while not perfect, takes important steps forward, replacing Medicaid with private-sector health insurance and placing recipients automatically in the state’s work programs.
David Goldman, Associated Press

One of the toughest issues currently facing Utah legislators is whether to provide health insurance to thousands of low-income Utahns using Medicaid taxes already paid by Utahns. It is a complex issue with no perfect solution, and I understand the concerns of advocates on both sides.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s proposal, Healthy Utah, would use the Medicaid tax dollars to provide private insurance coverage to 95,000 Utahns in the “gap” — those who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid but who also don’t earn enough to qualify for federal subsidies to purchase health insurance.

Some 63,000 of these people earn less than $11,670 per year, with the remaining 32,000 earning between $11,670 and $15,521 per year. Other proposals being debated on Capitol Hill would provide coverage to far fewer people.

I believe, given the reality of federal health care laws and regulations as well as the current positions of the Republican Congress and the Democratic president, that Herbert’s Healthy Utah proposal makes the most sense at this time and should be supported by the Legislature.

At stake is the health care of 95,000 low-income Utahns — and whether taxes paid by Utahns, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, will be used in Utah or be retained by the federal government.

The reality is that federal health care programs under Pres. Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act are in flux and could change significantly, depending on federal court decisions, the 2016 presidential election, and whether Republicans stay in control of Congress.

That’s why Herbert has proposed Healthy Utah as a two-year program. It will take immediate advantage of the $680 million that Utahns are paying each year to the federal government for low-income health care services, while not committing to a long-term program with rising state costs.

We need to effectively use the hundreds of millions of tax dollars being paid by Utahns to help fellow citizens, while maintaining flexibility so Utah can react to whatever happens with the Affordable Care Act. We need to be good stewards of Utah tax dollars, while working with federal counterparts to create a better system that makes sense for all Utahns and all Americans.

I understand and sympathize with legislators who worry about expanding entitlement programs that are unsustainable in the long term. We do need to provide a safety net for society’s most vulnerable members who are unable to take care of themselves. But these programs must be sustainable and must include the right incentives that encourage work and independence.

However, significantly reforming these programs, including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, will take time and the right political dynamics in Washington. If policymakers move too fast with major changes, an enormous backlash will occur and the party in power will be voted out.

Thus, it makes sense to move incrementally and work to elect reform-minded policymakers at all levels of government. The Healthy Utah program, while not perfect, takes important steps forward, replacing Medicaid with private-sector health insurance and placing recipients automatically in the state’s work programs. In the context of the entire state and national health care policy environment, it is the right solution for now.

Healthy Utah is supported by more than 75 Utah business, religious, research, criminal justice and charitable organizations, including the state’s major chambers of commerce and many other business associations. These organizations support Healthy Utah because it is the most practical solution, covering the most people and effectively using tax dollars we’re paying anyway, while the national health care system is being sorted out.

I encourage state lawmakers to support Healthy Utah.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.