It is now my favorite season in Utah: fall! The beautiful yellow Aspen leaves along the Alpine Loop are not the only evidence of this wonderful season falling upon us, but the trees in the loop around the Utah State Capitol have also taken on the various autumnal shades. I love the landscaping up on Capitol Hill, only enhancing the majestic beauty of our state’s capitol building.
This was the setting for October’s Interim Session up at the Utah State Legislature. While I could talk about Utah’s natural beauty for this entire post, I want to give you a quick rundown of the things I observed up at Interim Session this month. As always, make sure to comment below with your thoughts and, more importantly, call up your legislators to let them know as well!
Health Insurance: It’s all the rage in politics and you’ll rage about this!
On October 11, the Health Reform Task Force, the aptly named group of legislators tasked with looking at potential reforms to Utah’s health system, met to get an update on Utah’s submitted Medicaid waiver and the future of health insurance for 2018.
Last year, the Utah Legislature approved an extremely limited extension of Medicaid to cover under 10,000 individuals. The approval of the federal waiver needed to implement this extension was held over from the Obama administration into the Trump administration, and nearly 10 months later has still not been approved. Those who updated the Task Force have not received any word on when action might be taken, even though state leaders who visited former HHS Secretary Price shortly before he resigned stressed they wanted to implement this by November 1.
So, now not only are the 60,000 individuals who fall within the Medicaid coverage gap #stillwaiting, but these 10,000 Utahns are waiting on the Trump administration to get their act together. As a tragic reminder of why we still need full Medicaid expansion here in Utah, an estimated 761+ Utahns have died as a result of the Utah Legislature failing to pass this much-needed expansion.
In more depressing news, insurance companies have submitted their premium rates for use in the health insurance exchange for 2018. Premiums for individual plans on the exchange are expected to go up a whopping 39.6%! Why the high increase? Mostly this is coming from the uncertainty surrounding health insurance across the country as President Trump hemmed-and-hawed about continuing cost-share reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies. And now that he decided to discontinue these payments for good, we can only expect premiums to skyrocket without immediate action from Congress.
There have been recent Congressional efforts to continue these CSR payments but (surprise, surprise) the Alexander/Murray plan has run into opposition from our very own Senator Orrin Hatch who believes this only amounts to a bailout of the Affordable Care Act. Why doesn’t our Senator start standing up for Utahns for a change?
The Saddest Committee of Them All: Social Services
It is never a fun experience to sit in on meetings of the Social Services committees. These meetings are always full of depressing stories of people suffering for various reasons contrasted against lawmakers arguing whether the Legislature will actually fund the programs needed to alleviate their suffering.
Did you know that Utah has the fifth highest rate of suicide in the country? Over 500 Utahns have committed suicide so far THIS YEAR. Just typing that sentence makes me start tearing up. Last year, lawmakers took passed a law to help with this issue that would take steps to create a statewide crisis line. But to do so, the state must create a funding mechanism for such a crisis line. Funding is also needed to create Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams across the state (Salt Lake County is currently the only county to have such a team) that allows for quick help to be sent to those who are need of mental health support and suicide prevention.
Lawmakers also discussed shortfalls in funding the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), a plan originally meant to reform Utah’s criminal justice system by making changes and increasing funding. Although the changes were made, funding has been slow to follow. There is a dire need for funding to supplement mental health and substance abuse treatment (around $10 million on top of the $10 million already appropriated) among other programs.
Funding for homeless services was also discussed, which you can read more about here.
I’d also like to give a shout out to Senator Brian Shiozawa, who once again noted that a lot of the funding needs talked about would be solved by simply funding full Medicaid expansion. How many times do legislators need to hear this before they actually take action?!
Everything Else You Might Want to Know
- Rep. Mike Noel unveiled his Brian Head Wildfire “documentary,” a soon-to-be released look at the devastating wildfire with extra emphasis on why he believes the whole problem stemmed from those darn environmentalists. We’ll let you know once it is up on YouTube!
- The Quality Growth Commission gave a report on the controversy surrounding Salt Lake City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction over water up in the canyons, spawning quite the controversy among the public and lawmakers. Read more.
- The Legislative Management Committee voted to sue Attorney General Sean Reyes if he continues to withhold an opinion given to the Governor on how to conduct the 3rd District special election. Read more.
The state received a surplus of $26 million for FY 2017, $18 million of which is for education and the other $8 million in the general fund. Want to take bets on whether this extra money will end up being used for more transportation projects? Read more.