5 Things Utah: Q&A w/ Rep. Candice Pierucci, Interim committee meeting, Medicaid vaccination rates
We had a bit of news yesterday. State of Reform has joined the HMA family of companies. That family includes the Leavitt Partners, which is a national institution among health consultancies based in SLC. So, this alignment deepens our roots in Utah and connects Leavitt and State of Reform at the hip.
So, we’re very excited about the work to come and envisioned by this partnership. More on that in the months to come. But for now, here are five things we think are knowing for senior health care executives and health policy leaders in Utah for September, 2021.
With help from Emily Boerger
1. Q&A w/ Rep. Candice Pierucci
Rep. Candice Pierucci is a member of the Health and Human Services Interim Committee, and has served in the legislature since 2019. In this Q&A, Pierucci offers her thoughts on vaccine mandates, her future legislative behavioral health priorities, and solutions for capacity issues in hospitals and clinics.
Pierucci says the legislature will continue making investments in addressing suicide prevention, substance abuse, and mental health. She says she’s particularly focused on supporting maternal mental health in Utah, where she says overdose is the leading cause of maternal death. She’s hoping to find “creative solutions” to ensure access to resources such as doulas in low income and minority communities.
2. Medicaid enrollees still lag in vaccinations
A report from the Utah Dept. of Health shows COVID vaccination rates for Medicaid enrollees are significantly lower than rates for all Utahns, with some locations – like Park City and East Summit County – seeing rates 40-50% lower among enrollees. State of Reform Reporter Patrick Jones caught up with interim Medicaid Director Emma Chacon for insight into why these disparities exist and how the agency is working to close these gaps.
Chacon says the department has been focused on education/outreach, developing incentives, and supporting non-emergency transportation. “I feel that our obligation is to make sure that they clearly understand what is available to them, and that there is no cost to them. We can pay to get them there … But at that point, what can government or anybody else do? We are making every effort,” said Chacon, “and at some point, it is just a personal choice.”
3. Interim committee discusses VBC efforts
To promote value-based care in Utah, Rep. Suzanne Harrison says the legislature needs to focus on investing in primary care. Her comments came during last week’s Health and Human Services Interim Committee meeting where she focused on the value of prioritizing prevention and early interventions.
Harrison also outlined “focus areas for the future” of value-based care legislation which include improvements to Medicaid, increased price transparency, and the elimination of wasteful spending. Harrison says she will propose a bill in the upcoming session to include the National Diabetes Prevention Program in Medicaid coverage – a move she says will save Utah billions of dollars on diabetes care.
4. BH integration in community health centers
Utah’s 13 community health centers are on the “forefront” of physical and behavioral health integration, says Emily Bennett, Behavioral Health Integrated Care Coordinator at the Association for Utah Community Health. During a recent conversation with State of Reform, Bennett discussed how some CHCs are incorporating brief, 15-20 minute behavioral health interventions while patients see their physical health provider.
She says these short interventions help patients who don’t have time for weekly sessions, and are a potential solution for the BH workforce shortages facing the state. “It could keep [patients] from needing a higher level of care, and help with the waitlists that tend to happen with behavioral health providers.” Bennett says she’s encouraging all CHCs to utilize these brief interventions and to push for more integration.
5. Intermountain and SCL Health to merge
Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare and Colorado-based SCL Health signed a letter of intent to merge last week. The combined health system will bring together 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, and more than 58,000 health care workers covering Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, and Kansas.
The merger news came about a month after President Biden issued an executive order that aims to limit consolidation in the health care sector. Intermountain President & CEO Marc Harrison, MD, says this merger is unlikely to be in conflict with the executive order, in part because the systems do not overlap geographically. An agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of 2021, with the merger expected to close in early 2022.