5 Things Utah: Q&A w/Emma Chacon, ACA decision, Health equity

While DJ is out of office, I’ll be bringing you this edition of 5 Things We’re Watching. I’m the managing editor here at State of Reform where I have my eye on health care in Utah and a number of other states.

Feel free to email me any feedback or tips on what you think we should be covering!


Emily Boerger
State of Reform

1. Supreme Court dismisses ACA challenge

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the challenge to the Affordable Care Act in a 7-2 decision issued this morning. The justices did not rule on the constitutionality of the law, but instead said there is no harm to the plaintiffs (and therefore no legal standing to sue) because Congress had reduced the individual mandate penalty to zero dollars.

“For these reasons, we conclude that the plaintiffs in this suit failed to show a concrete, particularized injury fairly traceable to the defendants’ conduct in enforcing the specific statutory provision they attack as unconstitutional,” Justice Breyer wrote in the decision. “They have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision.” Justices Alito and Gorsuch dissented from the majority opinion.


2. Q&A w/Interim Medicaid Director Chacon

After serving as Medicaid deputy director, operations director, and in other positions at the Department of Health for many years, Emma Chacon took on the role of Interim State Medicaid Director in March 2021. In this Q&A, Chacon discusses Medicaid operations during the pandemic, equity discussions at UDOH, and the impact of the health department and human services department merger on Medicaid.

Chacon says some of the changes made to Utah’s Medicaid program during the pandemic, such as expanded telehealth through the use of audio-only services, may be here to stay. She also says they’re in the process of modifying contracts for non-emergency medical transportation related to vaccines for some groups. Her full comments are available here.


3. New federal funds to support Utah’s underserved communities

The CDC recently announced it had awarded $24.1 million to the Utah Department of Health to address health inequities exacerbated and created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC awarded a total of $2.25 billion to 107 recipients for a two-year, non-research grant aimed at reducing disparities, improving testing and contact tracing, and preventing and controlling COVID infections among underserved populations.

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services also recently announced $1.3 million in funding to support 13 Rural Health Clinics in Utah. Rural Health Clinics will use the funds “to maintain and increase COVID-19 testing, expand access to testing for rural residents, and broaden efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in ways tailored to their local communities.”

4. Future of telehealth at Intermountain

A recent study from Intermountain Healthcare found utilizing telehealth for physical therapy after hip surgery was just as clinically effective and less expensive than in-person care. Dr. William Beninati, a pulmonologist at Intermountain, says this is yet another data point supporting the increased adoption of telehealth across the many silos in health care.

Beninati says Intermountain has worked on implementing more telehealth programs – such as the Tele-Crisis program – into their primary care and hospital environments for the last six years. He says Intermountain’s next expansion project will focus on broadband access in rural Utah and training clinical leaders in telehealth fluency.


5. Health equity conversations in Utah

Angela Choberka is a member equity program consultant at SelectHealth and a City Councilmember for Ogden, Utah. Choberka recently caught up with State of Reform Reporter Patrick Jones for a conversation on health equity challenges in Utah, the importance of data collection, and representation in the health care workforce.

Choberka also described her work on the Alliance for the Determinants of Health project, which focused on moving upstream to build stronger communities. “It’s not okay for us as a health care system to acknowledge that there’s a 10-year life expectancy difference based on where you live and your address…We are thinking about how we get upstream further and how we build communities where everybody has the equal chance at opportunity.”