5 Things Utah: Q&A w/ Jaime Wissler, Children’s mental health, Youth Medicaid coverage

This month’s newsletter features a Q&A with Jaime Wissler, the newly appointed Executive Director of the One Utah Health Collaborative, insight from academic and health professional Krisi Kleinschmit, MD, on the state of youth mental health in Utah, and new data revealing Utah’s low insured rate for Medicaid-eligible children.

Thanks for reading!

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform

 

1. Q&A: One Utah Health Collaborative Executive Director Jaime Wissler

Earlier this month, Gov. Cox held a pledge signing ceremony for the One Utah Health Collaborative, during which he announced the value-based-care-focused consortium’s leadership. The Collaborative’s new Executive Director Jaime Wissler sat down with State of Reform to discuss his vision for the ambitious initiative and his plans to position Utah as a leader in cost-effective, high quality health care.

Rather than creating new value-based solutions, Wissler explained that Collaborative members are engaging with and promoting innovative pilot projects throughout the state that have potential to lower the cost of care. “The Collaborative is not the administrator of innovations; however, we will facilitate scaling worthy projects to achieve broader reach and cost savings.” The OUHC pledge can be viewed here, and stakeholders can submit recommendations and questions for the Collaborative here.

 

2. How can Utah improve the mental health of its youth?

Suicide is by far the leading cause of death for Utah youth. According to Dr. Kristi Kleinschmit, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the U of U School of Medicine, this is especially an issue for children in rural areas of the state, where the availability of mental health providers is scant. She also says high rates of postpartum depression in the state can lead children to not get the attention they need when they’re young, which further contributes to the problem.

So what solutions are on the table for Utah to address its nation-leading youth mental health crisis? Kleinschmit says the increased support for and use of telehealth during the pandemic has been a huge benefit for youth in need of mental health care. She also says helping families get out of poverty and ensuring they have accessible health insurance are important strategies to address the issue. She added that programs like U of U’s crisis line and mobile crisis outreach teams are available resources for youth in need. Read Kleinschmit’s full remarks here.


3. What They’re Watching: Alan Pruhs, Association for Utah Community Health

Like many folks in Utah’s health sector, Alan Pruhs, Executive Director of the Association for Utah Community Health, is working on transitioning the health care payment model from focusing on volume to focusing on value—which he emphasized is much easier said than done.

In this edition of “What They’re Watching,” Pruhs also discussed the utility of his organization’s newly implemented population health management software. “We’re now being able to reach [patients] more proactively than we have before by using this electronic tool that’s attached to, and connected and mapped to each of their individual EMRs. If we can have data at the point of care, care teams can start to address gaps at the time we have the patient in the health center.”

 

4. Many of Utah’s low-income children aren’t enrolled in Medicaid, despite being eligible

New data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that 84% of Utah children who qualified for Medicaid weren’t enrolled in the program in 2021. According to the data, Utah also had the 3rd highest rate of uninsured low-income children in the US last year.

This positions the state as having the lowest rate of Medicaid enrollment among eligible children out of all of the 36 states that have expanded Medicaid. UHPP Health Policy Analyst Emily Zheutlin says Utah’s lack of children’s health coverage has been a longtime issue and that next year’s legislative session will be “pivotal” in addressing it. “Study after study show health care coverage for kids not only improves children’s health, but also promotes higher academic achievement, overall wellbeing, and many other life-long benefits,” she said.


5. Commission will decide transgender students’ eligibility to play school sports

After a judge blocked HB 11′s ban on transgender students participating in girls’ sports teams last month, a commission—which the bill required to be created if its ban was blocked or didn’t pass—will now determine if transgender students are eligible to participate in school sports on a case-by-case basis. While the commission is still being operationalized, transgender students are able to play school sports on teams of their gender this fall, but it remains to be seen how the commission will impact school sport participation for these individuals once it starts its work.

In a recent conversation with State of Reform, Equality Utah’s Policy Director Marina Lowe denounced the legislation and the commission: “At the time that this legislation was passed, there was one transgender girl participating in high school athletics in the state of Utah. All of this effort and sort of legislative apparatus was directed at a single student. What that says to us and to many others is that this is a lot of fear driven hysteria rather than trying to solve a real problem that might exist in our state.”