Democratic Utah Rep. Rosemary Lesser (D – Ogden) spoke to State of Reform about her outlook and plans for the upcoming general session, which begins on January 17th. She plans to introduce several health-related reforms including bills that address Medicaid coverage and eligibility.
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Lesser, a member of the House Health and Human Services Committee, has filed House Bills 84 and 85, which would extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from Utah’s current 2 months to the CDC-recommended 12 months and expand Medicaid coverage eligibility for pregnant women.
“One of the reasons [12-month coverage is] so important, that period of time for difficulties after pregnancy is not only related to medical complications of pregnancy, like diabetes and high blood pressure, but also the mental health complications related to pregnancy, such as postpartum depression which is a very significant issue for individuals in our state,” Lesser said.
“I was thrilled that Governor Cox included this proposal in his budget, which is fantastic because this means that the Department of Health will also be advocating for this policy as part of the governor’s budget.”
Utah remains one of 15 states that have yet to extend to 12 months of postpartum coverage and has among the lowest income thresholds for this coverage in the US, with an income limit of 60% at or below federal poverty level (FPL) for a family of three. The recently passed federal omnibus spending bill made permanent the option for states to request 12-month postpartum extensions from the federal government, which was initially a temporary policy implemented during the pandemic.
The former US Air Force physician and retired OB/GYN said she also plans to introduce legislation that expands income eligibility for Medicaid to the national median of 200% FPL or below, utilizing funds designated for expanding health coverage to Utahns.
As Utah lawmakers prepare to commence the 2023 general session next week, the state’s Medicaid expansion fund has grown to more than $170 million and is on pace to surpass $250 million by next year. Utah expanded Medicaid under the ACA through a ballot initiative in 2018.
“As my bill is written, the funding for that inclusion of more women for prenatal care [would come out of] the Medicaid expansion fund,” Lesser said. “So this way, as I present this to my colleagues, this will not have an impact on the general fund for which there is considerable pressure for all of the things that we need to fund in our state. And I think it makes perfect sense as a pro-family state that we are and also I think that it’s fiscally responsible to use that money that is, at this point in surplus, to be used for what it was designated for, which is covering individuals under Medicaid.”
Lesser said she is looking to increase funding for programs that would expand the number of mental health professionals in schools and hospitals that provide therapy to students and healthcare workers. She is also developing a bill that would allow the state’s nursing board to monitor and approve programs that facilitate training and output within the nursing profession.
She expects many issues related to healthcare to come up during the session but said she and her healthcare-focused colleagues in the legislature are in lockstep with proposals that benefit the health of all Utahns.