5 things Utah: Lawmakers discuss health bills of 2023, trans health ban, BH in Legislature – State of Reform

The legislature began this year’s session on Jan. 17, and health committees are scheduled to hold their first hearings on bills this week. Reporter Boram Kim has been monitoring health-related bills as they are introduced and pushed forward, and we will continue to provide updates on key bills throughout the session.

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Eli Kirschbaum
state of reform

1. Legislators discuss their health-related legislation

Republican Rep. Norm Thurston recently spoke to State of Reform about his health-related priorities this year, including improving access to health care for Utahns with disabilities and allowing out-of-state providers to conduct telemedicine visits in Utah. “With the rapid increase in the use of telemedicine, we have found ourselves in a bad position because [with] Telemedicine providers need you to be licensed in the location where the patient is,” Thurston said, referring to the latter effort.

We also met with Democratic Rep. Rosemary Lesser, who plans to pass legislation raising the Medicaid eligibility threshold in Utah 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 that have introduced 12-month Medicaid coverage after childbirth, something that Gov. Cox is calling for in his budget and that federal health policy guidance is promoting.

2. The trans health ban is progressing rapidly through legislation

Following the introduction of HB 132 and SB 16 earlier this month, a majority of senators reaffirmed their support for the Senate version of an initiative to ban gender-affirming childcare. Senators voted 21-7 for SB 16 last week. The law — the continuation of a long-standing effort for Utah Republicans — would ban transgender surgery, impose a moratorium on puberty blockers and bar people over 25 from filing claims of negligence against their to assert providers.

Proponents of the law argue that minors’ brains are not developed enough to make responsible, life-changing decisions like these. “The future of our state, our nation and the world depends on the young people we as legislators and as a public have the privilege of serving,” said bill sponsor Senator Michael Kennedy. Opponents claim that these services are essential for youth who identify as transgender and that their ban negatively affects the mental health of these individuals and has been linked to an increase in suicidal tendencies.

3. What They Observe: Peter Weir, MD, University of Utah Health

In this installment of our What They’re Watching series, Peter Weir, MD, Executive Director of Population Health at the University of Utah Health, says one of his top priorities is integrating behavioral and physical health. He says separating the two critical areas of healthcare is “artificial”.

“As a doctor who takes care of patients, when these things are divided up, it also divides the care of people. And when you also compromise people’s care, that usually means poorer outcomes.” The passage of House Bill 413 last year created a task force tasked, among other things, with identifying ways to integrate behavioral health services into Medicaid programs. The working group includes several influential state health leaders and is scheduled to hold its next meeting on February 3.

4. Behavioral Health in the Legislature

The numerous behavioral health efforts lawmakers have on deck include bills requiring health plans to cover off-network mental health services and ensuring plans that diverge from the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act unsubscribe, continue to cover critical BH services. HB 66 and HB 29 would expand the country’s mobile crisis teams. Legislators have also introduced bills to ease state restrictions on telemedicine and licensing requirements for bra providers

The School Mental Health Collaborative, led by Aaron Fischer, PhD, has been involved in the development of many of the upcoming mental health laws. “A lot of what we’re doing through this project is really trying to leverage a telehealth framework as much as possible and really create opportunities for professional learning and community connections,” Fischer told State of Reform. Rep. Lesser also told State of Reform that lawmakers want to use omnibus funding to increase the number of mental health providers in schools.

5. DHHS continues to prepare for Medicaid reassessments in light of new guidelines

With the recent news from Washington DC that states can begin reassessing Medicaid eligibility beginning April 1, up to 200,000 Utahns will lose coverage in the near future due to updated income restrictions. Enrollment increased 60% during the pandemic due to temporary flexibility in eligibility soon to be decoupled from the public health emergency.

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services says it will begin the eligibility verification process on March 1. Leaders have been working for months to prepare the state for the upcoming coverage changes and to help put those at risk of losing their coverage in touch with alternatives. “A clear end date for continuous eligibility and enrollment has given the state confidence to implement the plan to eliminate this requirement,” DHHS said.


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