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State of Reform
1. Gruber on combining two health agencies
Tracy Gruber will soon lead the new unified Department of Health and Human Services. She has been at the helm of the state’s work to consolidate DOH and DHS. In this Q&A, Gruber shares her experience so far working with the project’s steering committee and what she envisions for the new department’s future.
Gruber affirmed there will be no service delivery gaps for Utahns once the merge is finalized in July of next year. She noted that considerable work will remain after the new department is up-and-running. She anticipates this will include ongoing “personnel issues” like job classification and pay parity for employees.
2. Barriers to improving behavioral health
Elizabeth Klc is the director of the Utah Substance Use and Mental Health Advisory Council. She recently told State of Reform that one of the biggest barriers to addressing Utah’s behavioral health crisis is the stigma that surrounds seeking care. Klc said programs like the SafeUT app provide a way around stigma as an obstacle to care by allowing users to seek services anonymously.
Despite surges in other states, Utah still has some of the highest overdose and suicide rates in the country. Klc called on the state to continue investing in intervention programs like this that have had a “huge impact” on mental health in Utah.
3. ‘Threading the needle’ on vaccine policy
The Utah Legislature passed a bill earlier this month that expands the allowed exemptions for employer vaccine mandates, reinforcing the state’s opposition to inoculation requirements. State of Reform reporter Patrick Jones spoke with SB 2004 sponsor Sen. Kirk Cullimore (R) about the legislation and why he believes Utah needs such a policy.
Cullimore said the bill is the result of months of work from legislators whose constituents have raised concerns about vaccine requirements from their employers. He emphasized that the bill isn’t designed to disincentivize employees from getting the vaccine, but rather to safeguard their right to make their own medical decisions. “Even [though we are] providing these outs, the message is still clear that most people [should] go adhere to the vaccine requirements.”
4. Rep. Dailey-Provost on recent legislation, future priorities
Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost shared some pointed criticism about recent legislation she found would limit medical choices for Utahns. For example, HB 92 would classify as “unprofessional conduct” the act of providing “a sex characteristic-altering procedure” for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria. While the bill didn’t pass this year, she says the effort is concerning because it would interfere with individuals’ right to medical care.
Dailey-Provost plans to prioritize legislation regulating vaping and e-cigarettes next session in order to help “turn the tide” on the “epidemic” of vaping in Utah. She says she will also work to secure sustainable funding for her bill that provides contraception to inmates, which is currently only funded for one year.
5. Health provisions in the revised BBB plan
With the release of President Biden’s scaled back “Build Back Better” plan, State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta broke down some of the health policy items that made their way into the president’s updated domestic agenda. The revised BBB plan includes Medicare coverage for hearing services and a permanent 6 percentage point increase in the federal matching rate for states offering HCBS services that meet new national standards.
Capretta’s latest column also dives into the details of the House’s version of the plan and its provisions that attempt to close the coverage gap. He says one of the plan’s provisions would enroll individuals in non-expansion states who are below the poverty line but don’t qualify for Medicaid or ACA subsidies in federally-subsidized commercial coverage from 2022-2025—and perhaps permanently. “If that is the case, it is possible the states that have not yet expanded Medicaid will never do so.”