The legislature commenced this year’s legislative session on Jan. 17th and health committees are slated to hold their first hearings on bills this week. Reporter Boram Kim has been monitoring health-related bills as they’re introduced and advanced, and we will continue to provide updates on key bills as the session continues.
Thanks for reading!
State of Reform
1. Lawmakers discuss their health-related legislation
Republican Rep. Norm Thurston recently spoke with State of Reform about his healthcare-related priorities this year, which include increasing care access for disabled Utahns and allowing providers in other states to conduct telehealth visits in Utah. “With the rapid uptick in the use of telehealth, we’ve got ourselves into a bad spot because [with] telehealth providers, you have to be licensed in the location where the patient is located,” Thurston said regarding the latter effort.
We also caught up with Democratic Rep. Rosemary Lesser, who plans to pursue legislation that raises Utah’s Medicaid eligibility threshold from 133% FPL or below to the national median of 200% or below. The House Health and Human Services Committee member also wants to join the 28 states who have implemented 12-month Medicaid postpartum coverage, something Gov. Cox calls for in his budget and that federal health policy guidance encourages.
2. Trans healthcare prohibition swiftly progresses through legislature
After the introduction of HB 132 and SB 16 earlier this month, the majority of senators affirmed their support for the Senate version of an initiative to ban gender-affirming care for minors. Senators voted 21-7 in favor of SB 16 last week. The bill—the continuation of a long-term effort for Utah Republicans—would prohibit transgender surgery, place a moratorium on puberty blockers, and prevent individuals over 25 from filing claims of negligence against their providers.
Proponents of the legislation argue that minors’ brains aren’t developed enough to make responsible, life-altering decisions like this. “The future of our state, nation, and world depends on the young ones that we as legislators and as a public are privileged to serve,” bill sponsor Sen. Michael Kennedy said. Opponents maintain that these services are essential for youth who identify as transgender, and that prohibiting them negatively impacts these individuals’ mental health and has been associated with increases in suicidality.
3. What They’re Watching: Peter Weir, MD, University of Utah Health
In this edition of our “What They’re Watching” series, Peter Weir, MD, executive director of population health at University of Utah Health, says one of his top priorities is integrating behavioral and physical health. He says the separation of the two critical areas of healthcare is “artificial.”
“As a doctor taking care of patients, when those things are split up, it also splits up people’s care. And when you also fracture people’s care, it usually means poorer outcomes.” The passage of House Bill 413 last year created a workgroup tasked with, among other things, identifying ways to integrate behavioral health services into Medicaid programs. The workgroup includes various influential health leaders in the state and is scheduled to have their next meeting on Feb. 3rd.
4. Behavioral health in the legislature
The abundant behavioral health efforts on deck in the legislature include bills to require health plans to cover out-of-network mental health services and to ensure plans that opt out of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act still cover critical BH services. HB 66 and HB 29 would expand the state’s mobile crisis response teams. Lawmakers have also introduced bills to ease cross-state telehealth restrictions and licensing requirements for BH providers
The School Mental Health Collaborative, led by Aaron Fischer, PhD, has been involved in the development of a lot of the upcoming mental health legislation. “A lot of what we’re doing through this project is really trying to utilize a telehealth framework to the extent possible, and really create opportunities for professional learning and community connection,” Fischer told State of Reform. Rep. Lesser also told State of Reform the legislature is looking to use omnibus funding to expand the number of mental health providers in schools.
5. DHHS continues to prepare for Medicaid redeterminations in light of new guidance
With the recent news from Washington DC that states can begin re-determining Medicaid eligibility starting April 1st, up to 200,000 Utahns stand to lose their coverage in the near future due to updated income restrictions. Enrollment grew by 60% during the pandemic because of the temporary eligibility flexibility that soon will be decoupled from the Public Health Emergency.
The Utah Department of Health and Human Services says they will begin the eligibility review process on March 1st. Leaders have been working for months to prepare the state for the imminent changes in coverage and help connect individuals at risk of losing coverage with alternatives. “Having a clear end date of continuous eligibility and enrollment has given the state certainty in order to implement the plan to wind down this requirement,” DHHS said.