KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Utah To Run State High-Risk Pool While Still Opposing Health Law

Utah Republican Gov. Gary R. Herbert has announced that the state "will join 29 other states and the District of Columbia" to run their own high-risk health insurance pools, while "[o]ther states let the federal government handle the program, concerned they would have to pay for it if they exhausted their federal funding," The Wall Street Journal reports.

"Utah's tardy decision-it was the last state in the union to decide, more than a month after the legal deadline-reflects a challenge it and other Republican-led states face in balancing their concerns about the health law, and the need to implement it. ... Mr. Herbert and other Utah Republican leaders are also being pragmatic in moving forward with early steps needed to prepare for the overhaul, while lobbying the Obama administration to shape regulations in a way favorable to Utah." Utah, Louisiana and Virginia, among other states, are moving forward with implementation while still suing to block the health law (Mathews, 6/25).

The Salt Lake Tribune: "The decision, said Herbert, hinged on getting 'the most bang for the buck' for the 17,000 Utahns estimated to be eligible for the special insurance program – people who have been rejected by private health insurance companies due to pre-existing health problems. Forty million in federal funds are budgeted for the program, a sum meant to last through 2014, when all Americans will have access to coverage through online insurance marketplaces… Utah Insurance Department director Neal Gooch predicts being able to stretch the money to reach 2,300 chronically ill Utahns, about 575 more than the federal government would have been able to serve" (Stewart, 6/25).

Meanwhile, the projected amount the new law will cost certain states, including Virginia and Maryland, varies widely, according to The Washington Post. "As states begin implementing the health-care law, they are acknowledging a difficult reality: Their shares of the costs, particularly given that they are set to escalate later in the decade, are exceptionally cloudy. There are several reasons why the law will cost some states more than others. For instance, states such as Maryland with generous health plans for low-income residents will need to spend less to reach new federal mandates than states such as Virginia, which cover fewer residents. But there are also so many unknowns that politicians can interpret the costs in any number of ways. If government leaders track spending for the remainder of the decade, as Maryland Democrats have done, the law's costs look low. Look a bit further into the future, as Virginia Republicans do, and costs expand quickly" (Helderman and Davis, 6/25).

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