Utah House HHS Committee kicks of session with new health bills

In its first convening of the new session, the Utah House Health and Human Services voted on a variety of proposed health legislation on topics ranging from health care for the homeless to vaccine reporting. 

House Bill 34, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, would establish a medical care respite program for homeless individuals in need of physical or mental health care. It would require the Department of Health to apply for a Medicaid waiver or state plan amendment from the Center for Medicaid Services before Jan. 1, 2022, to fund the program. According to Dunnigan, it would prevent homeless individuals from repeatedly needing to return to the emergency room.


Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.


“This chronically homeless person goes to the ER, they’re stabilized, and rather than [being] released back to the street, they’re released to this medical respite facility where they’ll receive medical attention and medical care for a longer period of time with a better chance of having a successful long-term outcome,” Dunnigan said.

This program will also fiscally benefit hospitals because transferring these individuals to a Medicaid-funded respite facility will cost much less than keeping them in the hospital, he said.

The committee passed HB 34 unanimously.

House Bill 99 amends provisions of the Public Employees’ Health Program (PEHP) to allow PEHP to establish an out-of-state provider network and partner with public entities in other states in pursuit of cost reduction through joint-purchasing agreements.

“The goal of this bill is to seek additional health care cost savings for our state budget and Utah taxpayers by increasing opportunities for PEHP to enter into joint purchasing agreements to get better prices on medications for its members,” said Rep. Suzanne Harrison, the bill’s sponsor. “This bill makes it possible for PEHP to work with government entities outside of Utah, in other states, to explore new opportunities for reducing health care costs through joint purchasing.

Harrison listed the joint purchase of drugs with manufacturers or pharmacy benefit managers and sharing provider networks to improve coverage for individuals outside of Utah as examples of how this can be done.

Senator Michael Kennedy is sponsoring the Senate version of this bill.

The committee passed HB 99 unanimously.

House Bill 15 is sponsored by Rep. Raymond Ward and modifies the Utah Controlled Substances Act in order to reduce opioid overdoses. Ward is proposing an amendment to the original bill, which passed during interim and removes an exception to the 7-day limit on prescriptions for certain controlled substances after surgery.

The amendment would require prescribers to check the Controlled Substance Database prior to prescribing a long-term (over 30-day) prescription of an opiate or a benzodiazepine to check if the patient has also been prescribed one of these drugs by another provider. This amendment is designed to avoid what Ward describes as the extremely dangerous effects of taking more than one of these drugs.

If the patient has received another prescription from a different provider, the providers must contact each other to determine if an additional prescription is needed. If a provider believes a patient needs a second prescription from them, they must contact the patient’s other provider explaining why the patient needs it prior to writing the prescription.

“We’ve passed many bills about this issue [the opioid crisis] — resolutions and bills to try to make changes,” Ward said. “But whatever we’ve done so far hasn’t worked, and so I’m still interested in trying to find ways to make things better. Eighty percent of people who get in trouble with narcotics start with a prescription that was given to them. That is usually where the problem starts and so, to me, that’s the place to go.”

The committee passed HB 15 unanimously.

House Bill 117 aims to improve the accuracy of Utah’s vaccine reporting database. It requires vaccine providers to register with the Utah Statewide Immunization Information System (USIIS) and report vaccine information. It also allows schools to provide an immunization record to USIIS. Ward is sponsoring the bill, and says it will address a lack of data collection and availability for Utah’s vaccine distribution.

“The bill says that the Department of Health, when they see that data is failing to come through — which happens all the time, but nobody’s checking, nobody’s looking at that and fixing it  — can then go hire some staff to go see why it’s not coming through and get it fixed,” Ward said.

The committee passed HB 117 unanimously.

House Concurrent Resolution 6 would recognize and thank the individuals who provide accurate information on COVID-19 to the legislature, the governor and Utah citizens.

“With this resolution, I am just wanting to say ‘thank you’ to a different group that I feel has done a really spectacular job for us, and that is just our state staff whose job it is to provide information,” Ward said. “It’s a thankless job, it’s not a frontline job, it includes both people who are good scientists … but it also includes the other end of that, and that is people who are good at looking at data and a chart and turning that into information that can be understood by us.”

The committee passed HCR 6 unanimously.