5 Things Utah: Medicaid/CHIP enrollment, Pharma usage up, Social needs screening

Hello Utah,

I’m filling in today for DJ Wilson, who is managing several projects this week. We are working away preparing for our 2020 Utah State of Reform Virtual Health Policy Conference on September 15th. Time seems to blur during this COVID era, so make sure you remember to register.

As we prepare for the conference, we’ll continue tracking all things Utah health care and health policy. As always, thanks for reading!

Michael Goldberg
State of Reform

1. Jumps in Medicaid and CHIP enrollment

Utah Medicaid and CHIP enrollment had the second largest percent increase in enrollment among the 17 states that have seen positive percentage growth in Medicaid and CHIP since March 2019. Enrollment increased 9.8% during this period, which included the implementation of a full expansion in January 2020.

Despite the growth, Utah reportedly hadn’t reached the 70,000-90,000 individuals that were estimated to be eligible for Medicaid several months after the full expansion was implemented. In addition to increases in Medicaid and CHIP enrollment, Utah is also in the top ten in growth for Qualified Health Plan selections at 2.9%.


2. Social needs screening in ERs

61% of Emergency Room patients surveyed in a recent University of Utah preliminary study said they had one or more unmet social needs. Over 50% of the patients requested referrals to community-based agencies. While the researchers plan to conduct larger studies, these findings point to positive outcomes associated with conducting universal social needs screenings in Emergency Rooms.

Social needs, including food and housing, play a role in up to 75% of health outcomes, according to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion. As a result, according to the University of Utah researchers, 25% of patients use ERs as their usual source of medical care due to cost barriers which prevent low income patients from receiving treatment.

3. Pharma usage up in COVID

The amount of medication “days supplied” was 12.3% above average in March 2020, according to a DOH report. Sterling Petersen, Analytics Lead for the Utah Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Statistics, said one potential explanation could be that people were rushing to fill prescriptions in anticipation of losing their employer sponsored insurance.

Pharmaceutical data from the report also shows that March 2020 saw a marked increase in the number of members of insurance plans filling anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication prescriptions. In March 2020, 13.7% more insurance members filled anti-anxiety prescriptions and 5.8% filed anti-depression medication. During the rapid rise in telehealth claims across the health system, the report found that mental health visits made up half of all telehealth encounters by the end of March.

4. White House labels Utah “hot spot” for COVID

The Center for Public Integrity recently published a private document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommending that Utah close bars and gyms to stop the spread of COVID in two cities and five counties. The document lists Utah as one of 18 states that are in the “red zone” for COVID cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past week.

On Tuesday, ProPublica published an investigative report showing that Utah prioritized the health of businesses over keeping COVID cases down. In the extensive report, UDOH Executive Director Dr. Joseph Miner said that state leaders pushed to reopen before cases decreased due to economic concerns and directed their focus to calculating how many patients Utah’s health system could handle.


5. Second Quarter FEC totals

Fourth District Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams has $2.6 million in cash on hand, opening up a big lead over his Republican opponent, Burgess Owens. Owens, a former NFL player, has $91K to spend according to the latest FEC disclosures.

In the race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Rob Bishop in the 1st CD, Republican Blake Moore, a political novice and international health care consultant with DocBerry International, has about $32K in cash on hand while his Democratic challenger, Darren Parry, has reported $5,639 in cash on hand. Bishop is one of 22 retiring House Republicans this cycle.