SALT LAKE CITY — The initiative campaign seeking a full expansion of Medicaid in Utah appeared Friday to reach the required thresholds of signatures in order to get on the ballot in November, according to an update listed online by the state elections office.
"The groundswell of support that we've seen makes us optimistic for the future," said Rylee Curtis, who managed the campaign called Utah Decides Healthcare.
In order to qualify for the ballot, an initiative must obtain at least 113,000 signatures statewide. Adding another significant hurdle, a certain number of signatures must also be collected in 26 of the 29 state Senate districts — specified thresholds calculated by taking 10 percent of the votes most recently cast for president in that area.
The Medicaid expansion initiative easily cleared the statewide requirement. The last three areas to clear their respective thresholds by Friday were state Senate districts 7, 11, and 14, based in Utah and southern Salt Lake counties, making exactly 26 such districts where the campaign thus far has enough verified signatures.
Utah Decides Healthcare is seeking to expand Medicaid coverage for about 150,000 Utahns who currently earn too much to qualify for the insurance program but who also earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, disqualifying them from certain important subsidies on purchases made on the federal health plan exchange.
The initiative would fund the expansion by increasing the state sales tax by 0.15 percent to raise an estimated $91 million in state funds, drawing down about $800 million in matching federal money.
A law passed by Utah lawmakers earlier this year instructs state health officials to request that the federal government expand Medicaid coverage to all Utahns who make less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Its supporters say that if the federal government were to grant the state's request, it would make 60,000 Utahns newly eligible for Medicaid coverage and would not require the raising of state taxes.
However, the ballot initiative would supersede that law and request a full Medicaid expansion from the federal government.
Utah Decides Healthcare filed its initiative paperwork with the lieutenant governor's office on Oct. 2 of last year. Submitting it then made it a relatively late entry for a voter's measure, leaving a narrow window for actual signature gathering, Curtis said.
"We used every day we had to collect those signatures," she said.
In total, 139,578 verified signatures had been placed on the initiative petition by Friday morning, according to the state elections office.
Another 53,281 signatures on the petition were invalidated. More than 33,000 of the rejected signatures were thrown out due to being offered by someone who is not a registered voter and another 10,000 were found to be duplicates, according to numbers released by the state.
At the signature filing deadline last month, Utah Decides Healthcare estimated it had turned in 165,000 signatures, but Curtis this week said the number turned in was significantly greater than initially thought and came in at above 190,000. It is unclear precisely how many signatures remain to be counted.
Curtis said she is unaware of any organized opposition seeking to get voters to remove their signatures by the May 15 deadline for doing so.
May 15 is also the deadline for county clerks to finish screening all of the signatures turned into them. The Elections Office then has until June 1 to officially certify whether an initiative has qualified for the November ballot.
State Elections Director Justin Lee recently explained that the state does not re-verify any signatures, but rather takes care of the math by ensuring the validated signatures were tallied correctly.
"We don't anticipate there being any big swings, if any swing at all, from the numbers everyone's seeing," Lee told the Deseret News late last month.