Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed SB 96 into law last week, replacing the voter-approved Proposition 3 concerning Medicaid expansion passed in November.
Prop 3 would have expanded Medicaid to 150,000 Utahns under the age of 65 who have annual incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. This amounts to $16,643 a year for individuals, and $22,411 for a household of two.
The passed proposition would also have raised Utah sales tax from 4.70 to 4.85 percent to finance the state’s cost to expand Medicaid.
Individual states can choose to expand Medicaid coverage under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, paying 10 percent of the funding while the federal government provides the remaining 90 percent.
Utah voters approved Prop 3 with a 53-47 margin. When the the 2019 legislative session began last month, however, lawmakers quickly moved to pass a replacement bill, Senate Bill 96.
“It is an attack on democracy. It is an attack on Utahns in need,” says Colin Diersing, spokesperson for The Fairness Project, a national organization that helped get the proposition on the Utah ballot and works to get similar initiatives on ballots across the country.
“This clearly overturns the will of the voters,” he says.
Diersing also contrasted Proposition 3, which he says took years of effort and support from many groups to get on last year’s ballot, with SB 96, which he says was “rammed through at the last minute.”
SB 96 went from being introduced in the Legislature to being signed by Governor Herbert in a matter of two weeks.
The new bill changes income requirements and the number of Utahns eligible to receive Medicaid, while keeping the Proposition 3 sales tax increase from 4.70 to 4.85 percent for state funding. Under SB 96, individuals with annual incomes at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level of $12,140 will qualify for Medicaid.
This will leave 60,000 fewer Utahns eligible than Proposition 3 would have covered.
Utah will have to get a waiver from the federal government in order to receive the partial Medicaid expansion under SB 96. Two other states, Massachusetts and Arkansas, have also requested a federal waiver.
The replacement bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Allen Christensen, said that the federal waiver should happen “within a month.” Christensen also pushed back against critics that say SB 96 is undemocratic.
“The problem with initiatives is that only one group draws them up,” he explains.
Christensen says ballot initiatives are often drawn up without considering the full economic consequences of what they propose, something state legislatures then review and change if necessary.
“We have to fix that initiative process,” he says.