Utah Senate greenlights children’s health care expansion bill

The Utah Senate today passed Sen. Luz Escamilla’s Children’s Health Coverage Amendments. Now awaiting House approval, SB 158 would significantly expand health care coverage for the state’s children, remove restrictions on their access to health coverage and significantly expand the eligibility requirements for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

 

 

Escamilla explained the access barriers the bill aims to remove:

“Currently, in order for you to access Medicaid or CHIP, you have to be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident. We know that there are many multiple statuses that you can be. The Utah way of dealing with this issue — we’ve done it since 2001 — is that we don’t penalize children for decisions and actions that they have no control over. So we are mirroring that same policy with this bill.”

Utah currently ranks 46th lowest in the nation for insured children and over 80,000 of its children are living without health insurance. The state also has the highest number of uninsured Latino and Hispanic children in the country.

The bill — what Escamilla described as the most important piece of legislation she is sponsoring this session — would establish a Children’s Coverage Outreach Pilot Program. This program would carry out various outreach efforts to underserved populations in Utah in order to raise awareness about coverage opportunities and assist children with their insurance applications.

It would also require the Utah Department of Health to fund an expansion of CHIP. If the bill passes, children in families whose income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level would be eligible for CHIP coverage.

The hefty $5.2 million price tag of the program has worried some of Escamilla’s conservative colleagues, including chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Sen. Michael Kennedy. Kennedy was the only committee member to vote against passing the bill out of committee when it was heard last week.

Escamilla, however, believes the program is well worth the investment and would be more economically feasible than paying for emergency room visits from uninsured children without access to preventive care.

“These are difficult times, and the care and access to care for children should not be a question because it’s not their choice. These kids can’t change what’s happening to them at this point, and I think it just makes sense from an economic perspective to invest in preventive care versus emergency room care.”

The bill has garnered abundant community support. Voices for Utah Children, United Way of Salt Lake and the Utah Medical Association all support the bill.

Voices for Utah Children punctuated its support on Thursday:

“More than 82,000 children in Utah do not have health insurance. Senate Bill 158, sponsored by Senator Luz Escamilla, is a priority bill to help us reach 100% kids coverage. It will remove barriers to health coverage, so all Utah kids can get the care they need and keep their coverage.”