Utah's Republican-controlled House of Representatives has reversed course and decided to consider Gov. Gary Herbert's Medicaid plan, despite comments from the Republican House speaker that the measure had no support and would not be heard.
A panel that assigns bills to House committees sent Herbert's Medicaid proposal and a House alternative forward on Tuesday, setting up both proposals for a hearing Wednesday evening.
House Speaker Greg Hughes declared last week that the House was done with the governor's proposal and would not consider the bill because it didn't have enough support.
Hughes, a Draper Republican, said Tuesday afternoon that he had hoped his comments would allow lawmakers to move forward and pursue some other compromise. He said House leaders have now decided the best way to get a deal is to hold a hearing on the House proposal and Herbert's proposal, as requested by the governor.
"I thought we were looking for a different outcome, but we're good," Hughes said. "We're good if these bills need to be heard and that given that fair process, we believe in that."
News last week that the governor's plan had reached on apparent dead end rankled Herbert, who spent months negotiating his plan with federal officials.
Herbert, a Republican, said Tuesday that he was pleased the House would hear his bill and that they had come up with their own plan, though he said he would have preferred to see the House plan weeks earlier.
When asked about the apparent reversal from Hughes, the governor said he had high regard for the first-year speaker and called him a good man.
"He's new in this role. There's probably a learning curve for all of us as we step into new assignments," Herbert said. "I think he's realized that it's important for the public to have an opportunity to voice their concerns."
Herbert's plan covers those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $33,500 for a family of four. In exchange for making about 126,000 Utah residents eligible for help over two years, the federal government had agreed to pay most of the program's costs.
Herbert's office estimates the program will cost Utah $25 million over the life of the two-year program.
It mirrors similar proposals from other Republican governors pushing for a way to expand health coverage under the federal law while keeping it palatable to their right-leaning Legislatures.
Critics of Herbert's plan argue there's no certainty about its price tag, and the costs to the state will be higher two years from now, when it will be tough for lawmakers to cut off the thousands who have been able to get care through the program.
House leaders instead appear to be backing an alternative proposal released Tuesday and sponsored by Taylorsville Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan.
Under Dunnigan's alternative, Utah would cover some of the state's very poorest under the traditional state-federal Medicaid program. All others earning below the poverty level, about $24,000 for a family of four, would be covered under a cheap state insurance program. Utah's Primary Care Network provides doctor and dental services, prescriptions and eye exams.
According to legislative estimates, Dunnigan's plan would cost about $32 million a year and cover about 64,000 people.