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To Expand or Not to Expand? State Legislature to Decide Future of Utah's Medicaid Program

When the state legislature reconvenes in January they’ll be given a report outlining the cost/benefit analysis of expanding Utah’s Medicaid program. Last week, the Utah Department of Heath held a public forum to gather comments on what should be considered as the study gets underway, but as Jessica Gail reports, the report could have little influence on some lawmakers.

32 -year-old Christina Osborn relies on Medicaid. "When I was 11 years old I was diagnosed with a brain tumor but yet no health insurance would insure me because of the epilepsy that was created."

Osborn briefly shared her story at a public forum last week at the Utah Department of Health. Her comments were one of more than a dozen made by doctors, healthcare leaders and community activists who want their voice heard in a report that will be given to the Utah Legislature in January.

"What we’re trying to say is for the population of Utah as a whole would this be good for them? And really if it's a good-for-them decision then that should be done as soon as possible. If we find that the costs out weigh the benefits than that decision should come pretty soon."

That’s Utah Department of Health Director Dr. David Patton. He says the state hired an out-of-state consulting firm to look at current and future enrollment data, annual costs savings, and the comments made by the public to be put in the report.

If Utah chooses to expand it would mean an additional 100,000 people added to the state's Medicaid program. But, Patton says it’s up to the study to find out just how much that would cost.

"We know very little about the population that is currently uninsured; are they healthier that the population that is currently insured or are they less healthy? That would make a big impact in what it costs us to give them services."

Weber County Republican Senator Allen Christensen also attended Thursday’s meeting. He says Utah has a balanced budget and doesn’t want the federal government to get in the way: “My job is to say no to some people. I can’t make everybody happy.”

And, even without seeing the report, Christensen is already predicting what the thinks the legislature will do.

"We're not going to do the Medicaid expansion. By the end of the session there's not going to be very much decided about Medicaid rather, except possibly the expansion."

The 2013 legislative session will begin January 28.