Utah lawmakers reject proposal to expand health coverage to more pregnant women

Feb 6, 2024, 5:04 PM | Updated: 6:37 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A push to expand health coverage for low-income pregnant women in Utah is not moving forward.

Lawmakers voted down that proposal this week even as doctors and child advocates pleaded with them to do something.

Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, sponsored HB193 and said he was “disappointed” by the House Business and Labor Committee’s decision Monday to strip out a provision expanding Medicaid for more women living in poverty before ultimately killing the bill.

Rep. Norm Thurston at the Capitol building during the 2024 session of the Utah Legislature. (Daniel Woodruff, KSL TV) Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful at the Capitol building during the 2024 session of the Utah Legislature. (Daniel Woodruff, KSL TV) Bill Cosgrove talks about health coverage for pregnant women during the 2024 session of the Utah Legislature. (Daniel Woodruff, KSL TV)

“I understand that we cannot provide every bit of health care to every person, and I don’t think we should try to do that,” Ward told KSL TV in an interview Tuesday. “What things do I think we should provide out there? Coverage in pregnancy is on my list.”

Ward, a doctor, argued expanding Medicaid would use existing money, costing taxpayers basically nothing new. But he ran into opposition from Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who said the state can’t afford it.

“I don’t think this is a great year for expanding Medicaid,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of new money.”

Thurston added that women can already access health plans through their employers or the Affordable Care Act.

“We have to accept responsibility for people who are already being paid through their work or through the federal program,” said Thurston, “and it just is a super expensive way of doing policy.”

Bill Cosgrove, a retired pediatrician of 34 years, advocated for Ward’s proposal. He said it would have helped more pregnant women in Utah access health care, benefitting them and their unborn children.

“Health care is really expensive,” Cosgrove said. “It prices out a lot of people.”

Cosgrove said he believes the decision by lawmakers to reject the proposal was short-sighted and does not bode well for future children of lower-income mothers.

“We can invest a few dollars when they’re young,” Cosgrove said, “or we can hoard that money and hope and pretend that they’re going to turn out well and then build a bigger prison in 20 years.”

Ward, the bill sponsor, said he plans to keep fighting. But in the meantime, there was another part of his bill that would continue funding from hospitals for an earlier expansion of Medicaid in Utah. Ward hopes to bring the bill back and get that part of it passed at least. The legislative session ends in less than a month.

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Utah lawmakers reject proposal to expand health coverage to more pregnant women