By Lincoln Nehring, Voices for Utah Children

The Affordable Care Act reduces the number of eligible, but unenrolled kids in Medicaid and CHIP. Despite what you may have heard, this is a good thing.

In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Times, Utah Governor Gary Herbert concedes that the ACA’s now-optional Medicaid expansion is not a budget buster for the state. Covering 50,000 uninsured Utah parents and adults—a big number for our little state—will increase Utah’s Medicaid spending by less than 5% a year. Further, the state costs of expanding coverage to these folks will largely be offset by reduced mental health and substance abuse spending by our counties and corrections system, reduced uncompensated care in our hospitals, and increased tax revenue to our state coffers.

What really troubles Governor Herbert is that over 50,000 children, the vast majority of Utah’s uninsured kids, are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, but not signed up. However, what bothers the Governor about this you may find surprising.  He seems to be angry that the ACA is going to help these kids enroll and get the health coverage they need.

You see, for years the State of Utah has controlled Medicaid and CHIP spending by making it difficult for families to enroll in these programs.  Utah ranks third worst in the nation in getting eligible kids enrolled.  Nationally, 85% of eligible kids sign up for Medicaid and CHIP; Utah enrolls only 75% of our state’s eligible kids. The ACA’s real state fiscal impact lies with the fact that it says “Enough!” and requires states to cut the red tape that keeps eligible children uninsured. No longer will families have to struggle through a bureaucratic maze to get and keep health coverage. If Utah does what the ACA requires, the Utah Department of Health estimates 35,500 uninsured children who are currently eligible for Medicaid will no longer be uninsured.

Governor Herbert is right, getting these kids enrolled and reducing the number of uninsured kids in our state is going to cost state government more money. Unfortunately, what Governor Herbert doesn’t understand is that investing in the health of our kids and families is exactly the type of investment state government should be making.  Hopefully he’ll figure it out soon, and we can move on from the ridiculous debate of whether these children deserve coverage to figuring out the best way to get it to them.