5 Things Utah: Henry Gardner, Health disparity trends, Medical Cannabis Board

DJ is taking a well-deserved vacation with his family, so while he is away I’m bringing you this edition of 5 Things We’re Watching. I cover health care policy in Utah along with a number of other states that round out our Southwest Edition. Feel free to email me any feedback or tips on what you think we should be covering.

DJ will be back later this month, but until then, here’s what we’re watching in Utah health care!

Emily Viles
State of Reform 
                                                                      With help from Emily Boerger

1. Health disparity trends by legislative district

The Utah Department of Health’s Office of Health Disparities recently released an annual report detailing health trends and challenges by legislative district. The 2019 report shows several interesting trends across Utah’s 29 Senate districts and 75 House districts.

The report uses a series of health indicators to rank districts and determine the health improvement needs of their constituents. Data from the report shows differences within individual districts geographically, economically, and socially. These differences are imperative for policy creation. Our rundown of the report is available here.

2. Medical Cannabis Compassionate Use Board

The Utah State Senate has confirmed the appointment of seven Utah physicians to the medical cannabis Compassionate Use Board. The board’s primary responsibilities will be to approve the issuance of medical cannabis patients cards to all patients under the age of 21, and to other patients seeking to treat a medical condition not currently listed as an approved, qualifying condition under the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.

Three of the board members will serve an initial term of two years, and the remaining four members will serve terms of four years each. The board anticipates it will begin meeting on a regular basis early this fall.

3. “Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019”

U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray recently introduced the “Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.” The bipartisan bill includes 54 different proposals from 65 senators (36 Democrats and 29 Republicans), all aimed at lowering the cost of health care. Included in the bill is a provision to raise the federal smoking age to 21 — an issue strongly supported by Sen. Romney.

Other key proposals include ending the practice of surprise billing, reducing the prices of prescription drugs, increasing cost transparency, and improving public health. The bill recently passed out of committee on a 20-3 vote, and Alexander says he will urge Senate leadership to bring it to the floor for a vote before the end of this month. Check out our rundown of the committee hearing and what’s included in the bill here.

4. Video: Henry Gardner, Utah Digital Health Service Commission

Henry Gardner is the Commissioner of the Utah Digital Health Service Commission. He joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to discuss standardizing data collection and sharing.

“We need to find a way to put consistency into patient data across the board because it works well in silos. Across the system they are able to work well within their own system, but when they move outside of that they cannot.”

5. Suicide map, socio-economic differences

Last week, the Utah Department of Health released a suicide rate map. The map details the rate of suicide in individual counties, and considers a number of demographic and socio-economic factors in the data sets.

Some standout trends include: variance in suicide rates by geographic area, lower rates of suicide among Utahns with bachelors degrees, and decreased rates of suicide as median income increases. The trends depicted in the map can be used when drafting future legislation and pinpointing gaps in current suicide policies.