On a recent mailer, Nikki Cunard, the democratic candidate running for Utah House District 45, claimed that her opponent, Rep. Steve Eliason (R), “[o]pposed Medicaid expansion and other proven steps to ensure children have access to insurance.” We were asked to determine the truth of the beginning of that claim, whether Rep. Eliason had opposed Medicaid expansion.
When looking at the history of Medicaid expansion (or rather, lack of expansion) in Utah, there are three major pieces of legislation that politicians refer to — Healthy Utah, Utah Access Plus, and this year’s H.B. 437. We examined Rep. Eliason’s record with each of these initiatives in order to determine the veracity of this claim.
S.B. 164 of 2015, otherwise known as Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah Plan, was an attempt to work around the requirements of the Affordable Care Act but nevertheless would have fully expanded Medicaid in Utah. After passing the Senate by a vote of 17-11, it went to the House Business and Labor Committee where it failed a motion to recommend by a vote of 4-9. On March 5, a motion was made on the floor of the House to “resurrect” S.B. 164 and bring it out of the Rules Committee for a vote by all the members of the House. Four Republicans in the House joined the House Democrats to vote for the motion; however, it was not enough to pump life back into the Healthy Utah Plan. Rep. Eliason was one of those who voted against that motion. (See p. 1569 of the House Journal)
Utah Access Plus was the plan brought forward by Governor Herbert later in 2015 after the defeat of his Healthy Utah Plan. Rather than waiting to bring the proposal through the normal legislative process during the 2016 Session, House Republicans brought up Utah Access Plus in a closed caucus meeting for a vote to determine whether Republicans would support the plan. After the meeting, it was revealed that the plan was defeated by a vote of 57-7. About half of those present revealed how they voted during the caucus meeting in response to inquiries from KUTV, however, Rep. Eliason did not.
H.B. 437, was originally touted by House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan as an attempt to expand Medicaid. However, when it was finally introduced late in the 2016 Legislative Session, it was unveiled to be only a small extension of already existing Medicaid programs, designed to cover only 16,000 (now 10,000) individuals within narrowly defined categories of mental illness, homelessness, or incarceration. Because of this, the measure was only able to qualify for the traditional 70/30 federal match, rather than the 90/10 federal match under the ACA’s provisions covering full Medicaid expansion up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Therefore, even though Rep. Eliason was a co-sponsor of this legislation, this cannot be considered as supporting Medicaid “expansion.”
We were unable to find any other votes, reports, materials, or other sources that would indicate either opposition to or support for expanding Medicaid.
Nikki Cunard claimed that Rep. Steve Eliason “opposed Medicaid expansion.” Although he cosponsored and voted in favor of Dunnigan’s H.B. 437, this was a mere extension of existing Medicaid and thus not support for what most consider to be “Medicaid expansion.” However, because he joined most other Republicans in the House to block the vote on Healthy Utah, he did oppose expanding Medicaid. If he had supported expanding Medicaid, he would have voted on the motion at that time, as it was the last possible opportunity to pass that bill during the 2015 Session.
Without having the additional information revealing how Rep. Eliason voted during the closed Republican caucus, we determine this claim is “Mostly True.”