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GOP House, Senate may hold rare joint meeting to hash out Medicaid expansion

Utah House Republicans want to take the unusual step of holding a joint caucus with their GOP Senate colleagues to work out a Medicaid expansion plan. But Senate leaders aren't sure they want to go there.
Utah House Republicans want to take the unusual step of holding a joint caucus with their GOP Senate colleagues to work out a Medicaid expansion plan. But Senate leaders aren't sure they want to go there.
Jordan Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Republicans want to take the unusual step of holding a joint caucus with their GOP Senate colleagues next week to work out a Medicaid expansion plan.

But Senate leaders aren't sure they want to go there.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he's never participated in a joint GOP caucus, but the Affordable Care Act has created a unique situation for legislators in Utah and across the country.

Hughes said having the Republican majority do a deep dive on the data and share their perspectives and concerns in the same room would drive a what he called a "generational decision."

"This really cannot be a House versus Senate, a Legislature versus governor political decision. It's one that you gotta get right," he said.

But Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said GOP senators intend to have their own two-hour discussion on Medicaid next Tuesday. Adams said they're only willing to meet with House Republicans afterward if they need more information.

Hughes said the joint caucus would be closed.

"We can't do this in a fish tank. This is already hard enough. We've gotta be able to express unfiltered concerns, questions, things like that," he said.

Republican lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert are far apart on how to provide medical coverage to the poorest Utahns.

Herbert's $236 million Healthy Utah Plan would help low-income residents obtain private health insurance, including those in the so-called coverage gap who otherwise would not qualify for any subsidies under President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

But the governor’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature have balked at making what they believe will become a costly long-term commitment. They are looking at limiting coverage to only the medically frail earning less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, about 10,000 people compared with nearly 100,000 under the governor’s plan.

House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said he hopes legislators and the governor can find space in the middle that works for Utahns.

Herbert told reporters Thursday he believes he and lawmakers can come together before the Legislature adjourns in mid-March.

"I'm going to be working with the Senate and the House to see if we can't resolve some of those differences and get to a place where we can all feel like this Healthy Utah program really will work for our taxpayers and our people who need some help," the governor said.

Herbert said Healthy Utah has been "sliced and diced" for 18 months, and if there's a better proposal, he wants to hear it.

"Doing nothing is not an option," he said.

Asked if he would veto a plan other than his own, Herbert said, "We're not even to the point of talking vetoes."

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