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New report suggests more Utahns than originally thought fall in the Medicaid coverage gap

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah- (ABC 4 Utah) – Thousands of Utahns have no option for health care as the debate over Medicaid expansion continues and the number may be higher than we thought.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah- (ABC 4 Utah) – Thousands of Utahns have no option for health care as the debate over Medicaid expansion continues and the number may be higher than we thought.

Those who fall in the gap make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to purchase a plan on the federal marketplace.

The combination is taking a toll.

Dr. Vivian Lee, CEO of University of Utah Health Care told the Health Reform Task Force the recent increase in charity care is stunning, exceeding more than $100 million last year.

"You're worried about paying and so you don't come until it's a crisis. So, instead of getting that 10 cent a day blood pressure pill you end up coming in with a stroke. It's a disaster, you come into the emergency room, it's a huge crisis and of course it's a lot more expensive to us as a health care system, as a society,” said Lee.

Churches are feeling the crunch too.

Bishop David Heslington presides over an inter-city ward for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He sees first hand the struggles Utah families face by going uninsured.

He told the task force the status quo is not humane.

"They're struggling to survive and they come to the church begging for help as a last resort, because they've been failed by the government," said Heslington.

Both support the governor's Healthy Utah Plan as a way to ease the burden and say the sooner the better.

Task Force Chair, Jim Dunnigan insists it's not that easy.

He points to the fact Healthy Utah hasn't even been approved by the federal government yet.

To complicate the process a new report suggests 77,000 Utahns fall into the coverage gap.

To this point, talks have been based on an earlier estimate of 57,000.

"We have this dueling dynamic of we need it done today to help people, also recognizing that this is an extremely large, long-term financial commitment," said Dunnigan, (R) Taylorsville.

Bishop Heslington says as deliberations go on, real people are suffering.

"I'm not saying rush it through, but do it right and get to it. My background is in business and if it took me two years to come to a solution I would be fired," said Heslington.

A bridge plan was also mentioned to provide coverage to those at or below 100% of the poverty level until the state can agree on full expansion.

It’s just another option for lawmakers to consider.

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