This edition includes information about the state’s preparation for upcoming Medicaid eligibility redeterminations and newly enacted health legislation.
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State of Reform
1. State agencies prepare for Medicaid redeterminations
The first in a series of scheduled rate reductions to Utah Medicaid’s enhanced FMAP will occur at the start of April, going from 6.2% to 5%. Two additional rate decreases are scheduled for July and October when the rate will drop to 2.5% and 1.5%, respectively. The Utah Department of Health and Human Services initiated its review of more than 289,000 households enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. DHHS reports that enrollment grew 61% during the pandemic to over 500,000 individuals.
The department has been coordinating with health plans, providers, and community partners to communicate to its members what to expect during the renewal process, including resources and the importance of updating personal information. The state’s Department of Workforce Services has implemented staffing strategies, including allowing for increased use of telemedicine, hiring rural workers, and enlisting retired staff.
2. Cox signs bills to address mental health crisis
Among legislation recently signed by Gov. Cox are several bills that aim to address Utah’s nationally high rate of mental health need. One of these is HB 66, which creates a new crisis receiving center in Cache County and two additional mobile crisis outreach teams for the state. “[MCOTs] are working very well in the state. We just need more of them,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, told State of Reform.
Building off of a 2020 bill that allowed optional mental health screenings in schools, Cox also signed HB 403 to require LEAs to either opt in or out of the program, and to reserve funding to pay for the screenings and post-screening care. Several of the signed bills involve telemedicine: SB 269 requires DHHS to pursue a Medicaid waiver to allow remote service delivery for individuals with chronic health conditions, HB 159 allows providers licensed in other states to practice in Utah via telemedicine, and HB 166 allows out-of-state mental health providers to practice remotely in Utah.
3. Lawmakers strengthen family visitation rights for children
Cox signed SB 163 earlier this month, which amends Utah’s child welfare laws to strengthen family visitation rights for children placed in welfare settings. The bill declares that parents maintain the right to keep in contact with children in custody, ensures children can continue contact with siblings when they’re separated from them, and removes the requirement that children under three years old who are determined to not return home be directed to adoption.
“Studies have shown that quality, frequent parent-time visits support successful family reunification in many ways, some including reducing trauma of removal in placement cases and maintaining the integrity of the parent-child relationship,” the Department of Child and Family Services told State of Reform following the bill’s passage. The department noted that the legislation builds on Utah’s already strong prioritization of family reunification and “does not greatly change child welfare in Utah.”
4. Cox, Utah Legislature prioritize social media regulations to protect youth mental health
Two bills collectively known as the Utah Social Media Regulation Act have received Gov. Cox’s signature. SB 152 requires social media companies to ensure users are 18 years or older, and if they’re not, to obtain parental consent and enforce certain regulations relating to minors’ accounts. HB 311 prohibits social media companies from presenting addictive or harmful materials to youth. Impacted individuals can collect damages from social media companies who violate the law.
The governor has clearly identified addressing the negative impacts of social media on youth as one of his main legislative priorities, having supported these efforts in the legislature. In January, he announced his intent to sue social media companies for their role in the degradation of youth mental health in the state. Some advocacy groups have publicly opposed the bills’ passage on the grounds that they restrict freedom of speech, but Cox says he is prepared to fight any potential lawsuits against the legislation.
5. CHIP eligibility for Utah children expanded
Following Cox’s signing of SB 217, Utah CHIP eligibility is now extended to children who would normally be ineligible due to their family’s immigration status. Children who are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level can be now be enrolled using a state-funded Alternative Eligibility Expendable Revenue Fund. DHHS must also create a waitlist for these children once the dedicated funding has expired, and the fund will remain open to additional investment from private sources to continue enrolling the newly eligible children.
Ciriac Alvarez Valle, senior policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children, told State of Reform that many of these children don’t have health insurance and often end up resorting to costly emergency room visits. “We think this is a great, family-friendly approach to get these kids in primary preventative care,” Alvarez Valle said. “It’s for working-class families. And we think this is a compassionate approach for these kids. But we also know that this is a fiscally responsible approach for covering all of these children.”