With less than 2 months before the start of the 2023 Utah General Session, improving healthcare accessibility will be a priority for state lawmakers during the 65th Legislature.
Stay one step ahead. Join our email list for the latest news.Subscribe
The legislature will consider 14 pieces of draft legislation reviewed by the 2022 Health and Human Services Interim Committee along with additional health-related bills filed by lawmakers between now and the end of the session in March.
Here is a summary of some of the legislation that will be considered.
Utah currently has at its disposal a Medicaid expansion fund surplus of $170 million that is expected to grow to $250 million next year.
Lawmakers will have access to those funds when the session considers several measures related to Medicaid benefits.
Lawmakers have split House Bill 363 into 2 separate bills that would lower income eligibility and extend postpartum coverage for pregnant women.
Pregnancy Medicaid Coverage Amendments is draft legislation that would raise Utah’s federal poverty level threshold for Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women from 144% to 200%.
The other part of that bill that would extend the state’s current postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months through a state waiver is expected to be introduced during the general session, according to Utah Health Policy Project (UHPP).
UHPP helped inform the legislation when it was initially proposed 2 sessions ago and says both pieces of legislation will have improved fiscal guidance this time around.
“This session may be the final straw,” said Emily Zheutlin, Policy Analyst for UHPP. “It’s getting to a point where all of these other states have introduced the full year [and] they’ve had success. There are stats across the board that [show] a decrease in hesitation to access care, decrease in medical debt and billing, for mothers who have expanded care for a full year. There are stats that show rates of depression found past 60 days [of birth in other states] were treated.
With that data and the fact that we have a smaller fiscal note and [surplus Medicaid expansion funds], we have a trifecta. [Utah has] a young [family-centered] population so I think that trifecta will help push it forward this year.”
Zheutlin said we can also expect to see the reintroduction of Senate Bill 185, which proposes expanding Medicaid and CHIP eligibility to all children in Utah, draft legislation around the provision of dental care under Medicaid, and the introduction of measures related to expanding doula services and health equity this session.
Measures banning access to healthcare for transgender youth are expected to be reintroduced in the upcoming session. Legislators will take up the question of whether to ban surgical procedures on minors experiencing gender dysphoria.
Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D – Salt Lake City), who cast one of the interim committee’s 5 dissenting votes when the draft legislation was passed, has been critical of the bill and others like it for unconstitutionally targeting transgender children.
“There’s probably another bill coming again this year to address [hormone treatments and puberty blockers],” Dailey-Provost told State of Reform. “It has been brought up every year for the last 3 or 4 years as long as I’ve been in the legislature.
We will keep fighting that. This bill does not address the hormone treatments and the puberty blockers, but we know that fight is going to continue to persist until we just get to a point as a society where we have to stop. We’ve decided we’re not going to attack these children and the transgender community at large anymore. So we’ll keep fighting until we get there.”
Behavioral health crisis
Policy conversations have centered on addressing the behavioral health concerns of Utahns, especially for youth, this past year.
Governor Spencer Cox has been vocal on the issue of youth mental health, recently playing host to the National Governors Association’s (NGA) meeting to address and strengthen youth mental health.
In the upcoming session, legislators will consider the policy recommendations from the Education and Mental Health Coordinating Council.
The council estimates that up to 91,000 children in Utah between the ages of 0-8 experience mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral challenges. These conditions could develop into mental health issues if left untreated.
It recommends creating a state-run public education campaign aimed at parents and caregivers to strengthen the emotional foundation for children and improve early childhood mental health.
Meanwhile, bills to address licensure for mental health professions and crisis response in rural areas are slated to bypass the general session’s standing committees and advance to the floor for debate.
One piece of draft legislation would authorize the state’s Behavioral Health Crisis Commission to create up to 5 additional mobile response teams and an additional crisis receiving center to serve rural areas of the state.
Another bill would authorize the Office of Professional Licensure to conduct an audit of requirements and scope of practice for all current mental health professions for the development of a future legislative report.
Among the other health-related legislation to be discussed are efforts related to extending or eliminating sunset review dates for various commissions, recodifying the Department of Health and Human Services, and expanding the numbers of drugs available to public employees in the discount prescription drug program.