SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert hosted a press conference in the Gold Room of the Utah State Capitol on Thursday where he presented details of his proposed Healthy Utah Plan and how it will assist Utahns currently without health care coverage.
Herbert began the conference by thanking those who have supported his efforts to push the Healthy Utah Plan as a three-year pilot program. He also said the plan would address the thousands of Utahns who are currently caught in the uninsured gap, earn a low-income wage, do not have access to affordable coverage through their employer, or are considered medically frail.
“These are our neighbors, our friends and our family members,” Herbert said.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation states the number of Utahns in the uninsured gap is 57,850. According to Herbert’s proposal, an estimated 95,000 Utahns would be eligible for coverage under the Healthy Utah Plan.
This number includes those currently caught in the coverage gap, along with those who fall between 100 percent and 133 percent of the federally identified poverty level — that level meaning they earn less than $15,521 per year.
Herbert said it is no secret that he has not been a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, but he does recognize that is has been made law and it is his job to uphold it.
Utah is also known as being a caring community, Herbert said. So the Healthy Utah Plan would only help cement that caring identity further.
“We do care about our neighbors and we want to care for those who are less fortunate (and) those who are the most vulnerable amongst us in society,” Herbert said. “Turning a blind eye and doing nothing is really not the Utah way.”
The governor also spoke about employment assistance through the plan. Herbert said that those who accept coverage under the Healthy Utah Plan and are not currently employed would be automatically enrolled in an integrated work program.
Through the program, members would be able to complete an online assessment and sign up for training in areas they feel they need improvement. They could also search for job opportunities and allow employers to see their resumé information.
“If you’re able-bodied and underemployed, we can help you get a better job so you can get off of government assistance and be self-sufficient,” Hebert said.
Herbert also said that another important part of the plan is its flexibility and he wants everyone to remember that the proposal is a three-year pilot program.
During that time, the Department of Health will compile data of those enrolled in the Healthy Utah Plan, the overall costs and funding going towards the plan and will ensure the federal government keeps its commitments to Utah.
“The fiscal aspects of this are the things that are really causing people concern,” Herbert said, “wanting to make sure we’re not buying something today that we cannot afford tomorrow.”
Multiple prominent community members, business leaders and religious leaders also publicly voiced their support for Herbert and the proposed Healthy Utah Plan, including: Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce; Bishop John C. Wester, from the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake; Vivian Lee, of the University of Utah Health Care; and Dr. David Patton, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.
According to the Healthy Utah Plan proposal, the next required steps needed to implement the plan are: approval of federal funding from the legislature; obtaining of a federal Medicaid waiver; multiple updates to state systems at locations like the Department of Workforce Services; and time set aside for private health providers to factor the Healthy Utah Plan into their rates.
In order to give adequate time for all these steps to be taken, the ideal time to implement the Healthy Utah Plan would be January 2016 if it is approved by the Legislature during the general session. To help assist those in need of health coverage until that point, the state would put a six month “bridge plan” into effect running from July-December 2015 that would provide people with interim coverage until they can transition into the Healthy Utah Plan at the beginning of the new year.
To end the press conference, Herbert offered words of encouragement to the people of Utah: This is not the end, he said, but only the beginning of what he sees as a great option for Utahns.
“I want the Legislature to know that I’m looking forward to working with them,” Herbert said. “They can count on me – on being a partner – as we have this discussion. We can ask the tough questions and we’ll find the right answers in representing the people of Utah.”
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