With Strong Polling, Medicaid Expansion Gains Popularity In Three Mountain West States

Oct 29, 2018

Three states in the Mountain West have ballot initiatives this November focused on expanding access to Medicaid. Over time, these traditionally Republican states appear to have warmed to a program originally linked to the Affordable Care Act.

Since Utahns first started debating the low-income health program in 2013, attitudes have slowly changed, according to Jason Perry, the Director of the University of Utah’s Hinkley Institute of Politics.

“There’s been sort of a growing level of support for Medicaid expansion and a majority of Utahns right now are saying we support it even though it’s going to cost us more,” Perry said.

Next week, both Utah and Idaho will have citizen initiatives for Medicaid expansion on the ballot. Voters in Montana will decide whether or not to keep funding the program that the legislature narrowly passed in 2015.

Bryce Ward, an economist with the University of Montana, said it's become possible to study the impact as more states have expanded the program. In Montana, individuals in the corrections system have been shifted from private insurance to reduced-cost Mediciad and the state pays less for mental health and substance abuse treatment, he said.   

“Even if your population is larger than you expect, the cost to the state seems to be pretty small,” Ward said.

Jason Perry of the Hinkley Institute of Politics said he doesn't think voters associate Medicaid expansion with the Affordable Care Act. 

"I think this issue in the minds of voters is separate from the Affordable Care Act," he said, noting that Utah is known as a compassionate state and that attention has been taken off of Medicaid expansion because of several other initiatives including redistricting and legalization of medical marijuana.  

The most recent polls in all three states show the measures are likely to pass.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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