5 Things Utah: Biden health policy, children’s mental health, AG Reyes

We are experiencing a tremendous leap forward in vaccine science, something that our gratification-now culture doesn’t fully appreciate. It took 5 days from sequencing the virus genome to the vaccine design. Only 5 days! It took four years for the mumps vaccine to be developed, which was previously the fastest development of a vaccine ever.

This moment is equivalent to landing on the moon for vaccine science. But with no images, no quote upon landing, and no visionary call from a martyred president (Kennedy), it’s not a moment likely to be fully appreciated or seared into our collective memory.

But, with all of the bad news out there, this is a moment to remind us what humanity is capable of when we work together.





With help from Michael Goldberg

1. Rep. Marie Poulson reflects on 12 years of health reform

A member of the state’s Health Care Reform Task Force since its inception 12 years ago, Rep. Marie Poulson (Cottonwood Heights) has had a front row seat to the evolution of Utah health care since. As she nears retirement in 2021, Poulson spoke with reporter Eli Kirshbaum about the long fight for Medicaid expansion, her criticisms of the Herbert administration and expectations for the Cox administration, and her concerns as Utah begins distributing COVID vaccines.

“I know during my twelve years serving as a legislator, with the rancor coming down from our current administration, a lot of more ‘in-your-face’ partisanship, I have seen it filter down to the states in the last few years … I really am pretty positive, in spite of the fact that we have this huge supermajority in the state, that most people will rise to the occasion, knowing what a terrible economic toll the pandemic has taken on people and that so many people have lost their friends and relatives.”

2. Cox administration rolls out economic team

Gov.-elect Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson announced several key cabinet picks recently. Utah Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert will lead Governor’s Office of Economic Development and former State Rep. Sophia DiCaro will serve as senior adviser and executive director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

Hemmert and DiCaro have both been in the legislative arena working on health policy. Hemmert recently served as co-chair of Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission. DiCaro served on the Health and Human Services Committee while in the Legislature. Hemmert vacating his Senate leadershp post kicks of a race to replace him. Sen. Ann Millner (assistant majority whip), Sen. Kirk Cullimore, and Sen. Jake Anderegg are all reported to be contenders.

3. Reviewing Utah’s early childhood mental health

A recent Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute study compiled key findings regarding early childhood mental health in Utah. Between ten and twenty percent of Utah’s 458,000 children between the ages of 0‒8 could experience mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral challenges. Utah is among a group of states that has the highest prevalence of mental health disorders in youth age 6‒17, and is also among a group of states that has the highest prevalence of youth with untreated mental health needs.

Data from 2014-2018 measuring the percentage of children in poverty show that three areas – Rosa Park (37.6%), Glendale (37.3%), and South Salt Lake (31.8%) – have percentages that are close to or more than double the national rate of child poverty. The report says national cost estimates of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among youth reach $247 billion per year in mental health and health services, lost productivity, and crime.

4. AG Reyes under fire for move to overturn election results

Signatures are steadily climbing on an open letter addressed to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. The letter demands that Reyes either issue a public apology, or step down, for signing on to an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit that would have delayed four states from casting their Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden.

Last week, Gov. Herbert and Gov.-elect Cox issued a joint statement saying that Reyes did not consult them before signing onto the amicus brief and that getting involved was an “unwise use of taxpayers’ money.” After the Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit last Friday for lack of standing, Reyes published a letter of his own, stating that his office communicated directly with the governor’s staff prior to signing on. None of Utah US House Republicans signed onto the brief, but 126 members of the  US House Republicans did.

5. A view from inside the Beltway

With a new administration and a closely divided Congress, DC-based State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta reasons it will be difficult to pass controversial measures on a partisan basis. In his latest column for State of Reform, Capretta outlines what the current political landscape might mean for health care policy in the Biden era.

He says drug pricing and surprise billing may be areas for bipartisan progress. Indeed, early this week a compromise framework for surprise billing legislation was rolled out. Capretta doesn’t expect to see legislation lowering Medicare’s age of eligibility to 60, despite what was outlined in the Biden-Sanders unity agenda. Capretta also anticipates Biden will make a push for a public option starting in January, but that he may need to rely on state initiated plans, like Washington’s, to develop a “quasi-public option” that would have a better chance of surviving political scrutiny.