5 Things Utah: Brian Zehnder MD, COVID update, Health bills

It feels something like the eye of the hurricane. Utah just went through the front part with the earthquake yesterday. Scary and real, but luckily no lives lost. Now, there is erie quiet ahead of the next part of the storm which looms, metaphorically, offshore.

“Don’t panic” may be the phrase of the day. But remember, as Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal, that’s what the captain of the Titanic said when told about an iceberg ahead… This is a time for “reason and realism,” she says, guidance I think serves us all well.





With help from Michael Goldberg and Monte Whaley

1. Tensions rise amid coronavirus outbreak

During the session, Utah’s lawmakers declared handshakes off-limits and barred interns and lobbyists from passing notes to the Senate floor, in an attempt to limit possible COVID-19 spread. Gov. Gary Herbert took broader measures to slow the virus outbreak, including barring mass gatherings of over 100 people. Notably, last night Herbert repealed Utah and Salt Lake Counties actions to further limit the spread.

However, now a group of 18 rural lawmakers accuse the governor and others of overreacting to COVID-19, likening the virus to a flu outbreak that will flame out by late spring. Herbert’s order to suspend dine-in services will help crush the Utah’s economy, the lawmakers say, urging Herbert and the rest of the state to “keep our wits about us.” So far, Utah has 66 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.

2. How health care bills faired this session

The Utah Legislature managed to finish up session in the nick of time last week, just before the first indications of COVID-19 community spread in Utah were coming to light. Reporter Michael Goldberg has an update on how some notable health bills faired over the last week of session.

proposed expansion of Medicaid to cover birth control, a new legislative strategy to reduce abortions, died in the House after passing in the Senate. An estimated 10,000 Utahns would have qualified for Medicaid covered birth control had it passed. Utahns who have been prescribed medical marijuana faired better, as a bill to streamline the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card is headed to Gov. Herbert’s desk. On mental health, Rep. Steve Eliason’s bill will make use of $5.9 million in one-time funds and an additional $10.8 million in ongoing funds to expand Utah’s mobile crisis outreach staff and create a behavioral health receiving center.

3. Market response: new testing, mission impacts

Salt Lake City-based Co-Diagnostics Inc. got approval from the FDA to begin the wide-spread distribution of the company’s COVID-19 test. Co-Diagnostics communications director Seth Egan said during a meeting of Utah high-tech firms, that the company could produce 50,000 or more COVID-19 tests per day at a cost of $10 per patient. A new at-home test is close to coming to market, as well.

Missionary work will continue for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the face of the spread of COVID-19 both in the United Stars and overseas. But some missionaries will be sent home earlier, particularly those with underlying health issues. The church also wants missionaries to limit speaking in person and teach church doctrine through their home computers.  The Peace Corps, for the first time in its history, is halting operations globally and evacuating all of its volunteers.

4. Video: Brian Zehnder, MD

Brian Zehnder, MD, is the Medical Director of Exodus Healthcare Network. He joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to discuss value based care and its rising importance for consumers and the health care system as a whole.

“The propensity of high deductible plans in Utah is getting to a tipping point where people are saying, ‘you know, I’ve got to spend $6000 for my health next year off the top, even before my insurance kicks in.’ So what do they want? They want value. They want to make sure the cost is reasonable, that they’re getting a good return on their investment…so, that value from the customer point of view is becoming more and more important in our health future.”

5. Postponing our 2020 conference

We are living through an amazing, complex and worrisome time. As COVID-19 continues to spread in Utah and the United States, it has made our collective efforts to limit the spread of the disease very important.  This is why, after consulting with our Convening Panel members, particularly Dr. Joe Miner at the Utah Dept. of Health, and in line with Gov. Herbert’s guidance, we have decided to postpone our 2020 Utah State of Reform Health Policy Conference.

We will work with our stakeholders to find a new time to convene as it becomes clear that the new date is both helpful and time-appropriate related to the outbreak. Between now and then, we will be working with sponsor organizations to develop specific content and tools to help the Utah care community weather the storm.

State of Reform, from this newsletter to our content online, is funded through the financial support of those that attend our conference. So, this is something of a precarious time for us at State of Reform, in the same way it’s precarious for tens of thousands of others in the economy. So, as we watch things progress, we’ll keep you posted on how we will continue to navigate through this uncertain time. Hang in there and be healthy.