5 Things Utah: Q&A w/Rep. Lesser, Topical Agenda, Student mental health

We are now less than two months out from our 2021 Utah State of Reform Health Policy Conference — and we’re getting excited about the names we’re curating for you as speakers at this year’s event. We will release the more than 60 speakers curated for you in another few weeks.

Until then, you can also review our agenda for our first federal conference held just the week before on April 7-8. We’ll have a number of names from inside the beltway that you’ll recognize, including some prominent Utahns on the agenda. So, we’d love to have you with us at one or even both if you’re a full health policy geek like me!





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Rep. Lesser discusses health policy priorities

Representative Rosemary Lesser, a veteran and a retired obstetrician-gynecologist, is a newcomer to the Utah Legislature this year. As a member of the House Health and Human Services Committee, she is eager to bring her professional medical expertise to the Legislature. In this Q&A, Lesser discusses the legislation she is sponsoring this year, how her medical background helps inform the conversation in the health committee, and the Legislature’s work to address COVID-19.

Lesser is sponsoring HB 265, a bill allowing patients to transfer their electronically prescribed medications to other pharmacies, along with another bill that aims to make it easier for homeless individuals to get ID cards. A third bill, which she describes as “a lot more complex,” would make Utah the 30th state in the nation to have contraceptive equity laws on the books. Rep. Lesser will discuss Utah Democrats’ health policy priorities at the upcoming 2021 Utah State of Reform Health Policy Conference on April 14.


2. Dunnigan bill offers homeless “a chance for a better life”

Rep. Jim Dunnigan is sponsoring a bill this year that would create a respite care program for homeless Utahns. By serving the homeless population, the bill would allow the state to receive Medicaid matching funds from the federal government for the program. Dunnigan says he was motivated to sponsor the bill after talking to the owner of a medical respite care center that had significant capacity for additional beds, but lacked the funding to obtain them.

“It requires some funding — we have to pay 10% under the Medicaid enhanced match —  but this particular facility is getting $100,000 from state funds currently,” he said. “We’re going to take that same $100,000, but we’re going to be able to draw down a nine-to-one match from the federal government. So, we’ll take the $100,000, turn it into $1 million, and we’ll be able to treat a lot more people.” This bill is one of several homelessness-related bills being discussed in the Legislature including HB 212, which modifies protection provisions for homeless youth, and HB 347, which would create the Office of Homeless Services and the Utah Homelessness Council.


3. ICYMI: Topical Agenda now available

In case you missed it, we recently released the Topical Agenda for the 2021 Utah State of Reform Health Policy Conference coming up on April 14th! It’s a set of topics pulled together from scores of hours of conversations with our Convening Panel, key stakeholders, and sponsors. We’ll be exploring politics and policy in health care, discussing the future of telehealth, and diving deep into COVID’s impact on the economy, our mental health, and health equity.

You can view the Topical Agenda here for a sense of the conversations we have teed up, and if you have suggestions for speakers let us know! If you haven’t already registered, we’d be honored to have you join us!


4. Bills prioritize student mental health

Two bills that extend students’ capacity to stay home from school due to mental health issues are advancing through the Legislature. HB 81 would allow students to list mental health issues as an excused absence from school, while HB 116 would permit students to miss school due to a physical or mental illness without having to present physician-signed documentation of the illness. Both bills have crossed over to the Senate.

In a conversation with State of Reform, HB 81 sponsor Rep. Mike Winder said he modeled the bill after a similar program in Oregon. He says he is hoping the bill will pass of the Senate floor this week. Winder told Deseret News last month that other states who have implemented this rule have seen a reduction in youth suicides. Winder says Utah currently ranks sixth highest in the nation for suicides among youth.

5. Implications of “chronic COVID”

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Chris Murray, Executive Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME), where I learned something I didn’t know. Based on data from the Novavax COVID vaccine trial, being previously sick with COVID-19 appears to offer no protection from being infected with the new South African strain of the virus.

Without cross-variant immunity, Murray says this data indicates we may be moving to a “world of chronic COVID” where every winter we treat COVID as we do the flu. I outline three immediate things that may change for us in this column. Perhaps the most important is this: hospitals and their current financing models are in trouble. Video of my full conversation with Murray is available here.