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Guest opinion: The stable bridge to a healthier Utah

Members of the Utah Senate debate a plan to replace the voter-approved full Medicaid expansion at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.
Members of the Utah Senate debate a plan to replace the voter-approved full Medicaid expansion at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

No longer will a promotion at work cost you your health insurance. Many found themselves in between being eligible for Medicaid, and being able to afford insurance on their own. The “Bridge Plan” closes the awkward gap preventing thousands of Utahns from seeking medical care. The Utah Department of Health has expanded its Medicaid benefits, now including those earning up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

The more people receiving routine checkups and preventative care, the better. These legislative changes allows more than 150,000 people to do just that.

The plan bridges the gap between those who are eligible for Medicaid and those who are eligible for subsidized private insurance. Whereas before, a single adult without children was only eligible for Medicaid under 5 percent of the federal poverty line, and an adult with children faced similar restrictions, all adults between ages 19 and 64 are now eligible to receive Medicaid.

Not only does the plan benefit those under 100 percent of the federal poverty level, but it is estimated to provide over 14,000 jobs, making it a sound, beneficial change for the rest of Utah as well.

Income should not be the difference between receiving life-saving treatment or suffering. Some citizens find themselves below 100 percent of the federal poverty line, while making too much to file for Medicaid. Often this prevents citizens from receiving care for diseases like diabetes, asthma and cancer. This will provide health care to those whose health has been hindered by their financial situation. Thousands of Americans who were unable to be vaccinated, receive preventative care, pay for needed medications, and provide their children with routine checkups, will now have this ability, making a healthier Utah.

The money for this expansion has been set aside by the federal government for the states, and Utah is part of the minority not taking advantage of this money. The federal government will cover approximately 68 percent of new adults on Medicaid, while the state will cover about 32 percent. The tax increase to Utahns is not overly ambitious, with only a .15 percent increase in sales tax, and allows Utah access to a substantial amount of federal money. Sixty-one percent of those who will become eligible in 2020 are employed by low-paying jobs without benefits, and the 31 percent not in the workforce are primarily the disabled, or those unable to work.

Rather than citizens feeling stuck in their financial situation in order to keep their insurance, the new plan encourages people to come out of poverty, going straight from Medicaid to subsidized private insurance through the federal marketplace. This means that the long-term strategy of Medicaid is for those receiving it to eventually no longer have the need.

This expansion has already been initiated by 36 other states, to which none have reversed. If the majority of states are seeing positive results, it is wise to follow their example. The bottom line is that the benefit of having more accessible health care for citizens of Utah outweighs the financial impact, and the legislative changes are positive and necessary ones.