5 Things Utah: Rep. Eliason, Cox’s 500-day plan, Budget proposal

We are now on the other side of the 45th peaceful transfer of power since our Constitution was ratified in 1789. It is one of the most uncommon things in the great swath of human history, having hardly ever been done without swords or battles of some sort. Here, in America, we do this by election.

If your candidate won, congratulations. If your candidate didn’t win, that is the great luxury of living in a republican democracy. You know you’ll get another chance. Now, Utah and America move towards a period of lawmaking and governance. Sure, midterm elections are around the corner in 2022. But, it’s nice to know we won’t likely have quite the animus of the 2020 elections for at least some number of months.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Health provisions in Cox’s budget

Governor Spencer Cox released his $21.7 billion FY 2022 budget proposal last week, calling for “opportunity for all” and focusing largely on education and the COVID-19 response. The budget allocates $250 million to COVID-19 response efforts, with $100 million for public health, $100 million toward short-term economic response, and $50 million toward critical education needs.

Other health-related investments include: $1.2 billion for Medicaid & other social services, $125 million for rural infrastructure such as broadband, $3.3 million to recruit and retain frontline social service and state hospital workers, and $2.3 million to strengthen the state’s behavioral health system. Appropriations subcommittees began their work this week to hash through the state’s spending plan.


2. Q&A: Rep. Steve Eliason

Rep. Steve Eliason represents Utah’s 45th Legislative District and is a member of the House Health and Human Services Committee. A public accountant by trade, Eliason got involved in health policy out of concern for rising suicide rates in Utah. This is part of a larger trend of suicides in the Rocky Mountain states, which Eliason says is often called the “suicide belt.”

In this Q&A, Eliason discusses two bills he plans to run related to suicide prevention. One bill would promote Zero Suicide, a program for health care providers to screen for depression and suicide ideation. He also plans to run a bill where individuals can voluntarily put their names on a no-buy list for firearms.


3. Cox unveils 500-day plan

Gov. Cox released his “One Utah Roadmap” on Tuesday, highlighting his 6 top priorities for his first 500 days in office: economic advancement, investment in education, meeting rural community needs, health security, equality and opportunity, and modernizing state government. A central goal of the health security priority is combatting COVID-19 through training more community health workers and focusing on vaccine and testing strategies.

Beyond COVID, the plan prioritizes health personnel in schools, expanding mental health-focused telehealth services, and improving cost transparency. Cox says he will pursue value-based care and will invest in services that address the social determinants of health to develop a statewide health equity plan.

4. Event: Mental health policy in 2021

This morning at 10:30 am, we are hosting a panel on “Mental health policy in 2021” as the Biden administration takes the reins. This session includes voices from outside of Utah, including Texas, California and North Carolina. It’s part of our “Leadership Series,” one of our “Virtual Conversations” we have built during this pandemic. The event is free, but you have to register.

Tom Insel, MD, will anchor the panel. He led the National Institute for Mental Health from 2002 to 2015. He is now California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mental health czar and one of the most well respected thought leaders on mental health in the country. He will be joined by Andy Keller, CEO of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute based in Texas, as well as by Susan Mims, MD. She is the Interim CEO of the Dogwood Health Trust in North Carolina, one of the country’s largest and newest health care-focused philanthropic foundations.


5. Experts talk Medicaid & health disparities

A panel of experts at the UHPP Health care Solutions for Utahns Conference last week made the case that Medicaid expansion is a key facet of implementing solutions to address health disparities. They reason that not only does Medicaid expansion decrease the uninsured rate, but it also increases the number of community health workers (CHWs) and empowers beneficiaries.

Christine Madrid Espinel, health program specialist at the Utah DOH’s Office of Health Disparities, highlighted her department’s COVID Community Partnership Project, which embeds community health workers into Utah’s COVID-19 response. The project prioritizes barriers-free testing, connecting participants to resources, building CHW capacity, and community education.