Transparency in the Healthy Utah discussion


Whatever your position on expanding Medicaid in Utah, attacking the post-legislative session discussions as being “secretive” only makes sense if you don’t know anything about public policy formation.

Transparency in the Healthy Utah discussion
Governor Gary Herbert at a press conference during the 2015 Utah Legislative Session.

When Healthy Utah failed to pass out of a House committee late in the 2015 Legislative Session, Governor Gary Herbert promised to call a special session in July. It set a deadline by which he, Speaker Greg Hughes, and President Wayne Neiderhauser would iron out differences between Healthy Utah and the House’s Utah Cares (which also failed).

And that’s the rub. The left leaning activists who are pushing for Medicaid expansion in Utah (even Healthy Utah is missing out on some federal funding they say) worry, probably justifiably, that the Republican Caucus in the House doesn’t want to do any kind of Medicaid expansion at all. After a session that saw tax hikes on property and gas prices, mandatory safety belt laws, and nondiscrimination legislation (the Salt Lake Tribune called them “big laws” with a “liberal bent”),  would expand healthcare coverage to an unknown amount (projections aside) be a bridge too far for Republican legislators?

Senator Jim Dabakis
Sen.  Jim Dabakis

Or, as Salt Lake media attorney Jeff Hunt put it: “A group like this, they probably need some ability to have candid discussions and horse trading. It would be extremely difficult to have negotiations of this sort that were fully open to the public. They need a little breathing room.”

I’d say. Let’s think of an issue that could cause more trouble for Republican legislators than voting for Obamacare. Anyone? Anyone?

A little breathing room might be prudent.

Meanwhile, Utah Senator Jim Dabakis complained that discussions were happening behind a “locked policy door” while the left leaning Alliance for a Better Utah said that the discussion were excluding “the Legislature, the Democrats, the public and the media alike.” Never mind that the eventual legislation will have to appear before multiple legislative committees, will be much read and discussed by the public and the media, and maybe even Democrats (all 17 of them in the legislature). This after the issues has been in the public eye, subject to many polls and surveys, and the subject of numerous op-eds, editorials, and letters to the editor.

In fact, Speaker Greg Hughes wrote one over the weekend, as did Rep. Jake Anderegg.

Nancy Pelosi  Harry Reid  head to White House for meeting   Jake Sherman   POLITICO.comIronically, these same people seem to forget how the Affordable Care Act passed in the first place.

There will be no surprises when the legislation finally emerges. Like attacking Healthy Utah critics with poorly conceived mailers, criticizing the discussions over secrecy and locked doors does little to build trust with those who are trying to craft public policy.

If anything, it only reinforces the sense that those on Utah’s left are more interested in scoring points than in scoring good public policy. Healthy Utah may still have a fighting chance, but let’s allow the conservatives in the House a chance to find a way to craft public policy they can swallow and will help Utah’s uninsured without blasting them for making the effort.

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