Gov. may not decide Medicaid expansion until Jan.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Despite months of uncertainty, Gov. Gary Herbert says he may not make a decision about whether to expand Medicaid in Utah until January.

Utah is among a handful of states that have yet to make a decision about whether to accept the federal government’s offer to expand the program as part of the federal health care law.

Herbert has delayed a decision, repeatedly saying he wouldn’t decide until an outside analysis of the issue was completed.

That report was released in May, but the governor said he’s also awaiting the recommendations of a task force studying the issue.

At his monthly televised news conference on Thursday, Herbert said he did not want to be rushed on the issue.

“I’m going to be very careful about it, very methodical,” he said. “I’m going to listen to everybody, and anybody. Take all the input I can before I make the decision.”

Under the health care overhaul law, the federal government has offered to pick up the tab for Medicaid expansion in the first three years and 90 percent over the long haul.

If Herbert expands Utah’s program, about 130,000 uninsured people would gain coverage under Medicaid. About 225,000 to 250,000 people in the state are currently on the program.

The report released in May found that the state’s Medicaid costs will rise over time, with or without the optional expansion, but those costs could be offset by savings elsewhere for the state and local governments.

Herbert said he still has a lot of unanswered questions about expansion’s true cost in the long run. He is expecting the task force’s recommendation later this fall, and said he expects he’ll make a decision by Jan. 1.

At his news conference Thursday, Herbert also discussed the water shortages threatening a number of northern Utah cities this summer.

Officials have ordered customers of the Pine View Water Systems to cut their usage in half through September. The order, which affects the Ogden River Water Users Association, South Ogden Conservation District and Weber-Box Elder Conservation District, placed restrictions on lawn watering and imposes fines on violators.

Herbert told reporters he’s concerned about the shortages and said it’s critical for the state to secure the resource for its fast-growing population.

The governor is planning a conference in October to address the state’s water needs and form a 50-year-plan, part of which will include conservation efforts, he said.

Herbert on Thursday also addressed recent news reports about the National Security Agency’s large-scale collection of Americans’ emails and other communications. The agency has recently constructed a massive, billion-dollar data center in Bluffdale to store the information it collects.

Herbert said the building’s presence in Utah isn’t an issue, but he does have concerns about the activities of the agency and what information they may be collecting.

“I think we’re all concerned about Big Brother and the overreach that we see with the federal government in many levels,” he said. “It’s not just with our emails and surveillance and spy tactics, but it’s the overreach in every aspect of our life.”

There should be an appropriate balance between protection and privacy, Herbert said, adding that he hopes there is appropriate federal oversight of the agency.

Herbert also used his news conference to remind Utah residents to be careful as the state enters the final stretch of the fire season.

There have been 900 fires this year, fewer than last year’s 1,500 fires, and fewer of this year’s fires were sparked by people, he said.

“Let’s make sure that any other fires that we have this year are mother nature-cause and not man caused,” Herbert said.

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Follow Michelle L. Price on Twitter at http://twitter.com/michellelprice

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