5 Things Utah: SLCo RFA, Interim study plan, ARPA funds

It’s mental health awareness month in May. And, though we’re at the end of the month, it feels like time to double down on being intentional about addressing our mental health needs.

According to the US Census Household Pulse Survey, about 53% of Utahns self-attested to “feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge” at least “several days” in the last 7 days in the period between April 28 and May 10. Among respondents, 44% reported “not being able to stop or control worrying” several days in a week during the period.

So, hang in there. Hug your kids. Call your mom. Go for the walk. Say “I love you.” And, admit if you’re feeling blue, if you are. We’ll get through it.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Interim committee talks next steps for BH

Utah’s Health and Human Services Interim Committee held its first meeting last week to talk through a number of issues including its 2021 interim study plan where lawmakers said they will discuss health care reform, transgender issues related to athletics and medical procedures, and the DOH/DHS merger.

Lawmakers also heard several presentations on the next steps for improving Utah’s behavioral health system. Future policy suggestions include: changes to licensing reciprocity, increased funding for BH programs in higher education, and funding to build resources in underserved communities. The nearly 30 presentations from last week’s meeting are available here. The committee’s next interim meeting is scheduled for June 16.


2. Health care in the special session

Lawmakers allocated roughly $571 million of the $1.7 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds slated for Utah during the special session last week. Reporter Patrick Jones spoke with Minority Whip Sen. Luz Escamilla about the health-related funding allocations from last week which include $165 million for social services like mental health services and vaccine distribution.

Escamilla also offered her take on the passage of HB 1007, which bans schools from instituting mask mandates. She says the bill is sending the wrong message about the approach the legislature should take in its COVID response: “At the end of the day, the only population that is not vaccinated and has no access to vaccines are our kids. Why go after a population that is vulnerable?”


3. Frank Pignanelli on the future of telehealth

Frank Pignanelli, former state legislator and partner at government relations firm Foxley & Pignanelli, says the pandemic “supercharged the use of technology and assessment of health care” and forced lawmakers to quickly respond during the past session. In this Q&A, Pignanelli says questions related to telehealth payment parity and patient privacy are still top of mind for Utah legislators.

Pignanelli also says he’s looking forward to upcoming conversations about how telehealth will be used to support mental health. “We’re going to start seeing mental health providers who want to expand the scope of services through telehealth. With that, there will be push back on whether that is possible under this telehealth scheme.” The future of telehealth was an issue lawmakers discussed during our Republican Leadership panel at the State of Reform Conference last month.

4. Salt Lake Co. RFA on BH

Salt Lake County has an RFA to purchase a range of behavioral health services from an MCO, from inpatient services to case management. It’s a big contract, currently with Optum. The award will have implications for integration in other parts of the state, too. The admin load is 10% with additional payment as part of an incentive structure over a 6 year term. Responses are due tomorrow.

I offer a few thoughts on lessons learned from watching counties across the country try to engage in this process. One is that this is kind of a sweet spot for counties: to leverage procurement of services to bring in market expertise that can drive reform in a way that county operated services generally can’t. At the same time, counties are well served by having contracted partners that are separate from the MCOs they partner with so that their voice doesn’t get lost amongst other concerns in the state.


5. Predictions for federal health policy agenda

President Biden’s health policy agenda got off to a quick start but may slow in the coming months. In this piece, State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta outlines the high-profile health reforms that Democrats are discussing for possible inclusion in the infrastructure or family support bills that Biden has teed up. The list includes efforts to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60, include dental and vision coverage under Medicare, and the creation of a public option.

Capretta also has a column out detailing the Biden administration’s reversals of three Trump-era Medicaid decisions, which he says “signal a wholesale change in direction is now underway.” He highlights what these decisions mean for the future of work requirements, block grants, and state waivers.