As state legislators try to decide what to do about the 60,000 Utahns who fall into the Medicaid gap, there remain plenty of unanswered questions regarding health care reform.
There are currently three proposed health care plans in Utah. The House, Senate and Governor all are presenting separate plans.
The House’s Plan:
The House plan is being presented by Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart as House Bill 401. The reform by only using state dollars to cover the Medicaid gap.
The Senate’s Plan:
Senate Bill 251, which is sponsored by Sen. Brian Shiozowa, is a partial expansion and private-option plan. This means it would subsidize health care coverage through employer-sponsored insurance, private insurance and Medicaid Accountable Care Organizations.
The proposed bill would cover anybody who is under the poverty level which means any individual making less than $11,500 per year. By 2020, it is estimated to cover 54,000 Utahns.
Under this plan, Utah would have to ask the federal government to help cover 90 percent of the cost, while the state would cover the rest. This is opposed to the current system in which the national government covers 70 percent of Medicaid.
However, the Utah Health Policy Project, which supports the governor’s bill, is fearful that the federal government would pull it's funding down the road.
State legislators have compromised with the Count My Vote initiative as it passed in the House Government Operations committee on Monday. A bill - SB54 - was amended to be inclusive to the Count My Vote movement.
Todd Weiler, a state senator from Bountiful, said if passed the bill would allow candidates to bypass the caucus system by collecting enough signatures to be on the voter ballot.
“The Count My Vote organizers have agreed to stop collecting signatures and to not submit the signatures," Weiler said. "They are going to effectively withdraw their language with SB 54.”
One air quality bill proposed today suggests the State should not regulate CO2. Going against Gary Herbert’s campaign to clean up Utah’s air, a state representative said CO2 shouldn’t be defined as a contaminant.
A Utah legislator is pushing to define things like carbon dioxide and nitrogen as natural components of the atmosphere, not as pollutants. The bill, HB 229, was proposed on Tuesday to the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.
Rep. Jerry Anderson (R-Price) is a former science teacher. He said he is a sponsor of the bill, which would re-define what air contaminants mean, because carbon dioxide is an important part of photosynthesis.
A House committee unanimously approved a measure this week which would allow police to take DNA samples from people they arrest on suspicion of felony. Rep. Steve Eliason (R-Sandy), the major proponent of the bill, said genetic evidence is the modern form of police fingerprinting.
H.B. 212 changes the protocol of DNA information to be available at the time of arrest instead of after conviction.
On Wednesday, Utah's four elected Latino legislators met with the public at the Utah State Capitol to outline and discuss pieces of legislation they are introducing and supporting during this legislative session.
Matt Lyon, executive director of Utah's Democratic Party, said all of the Hispanic elected officials in the state belong to the Democratic Party. He said Utah Democrats are increasing efforts to encourage Latino residents to participate in politics. As director of the party, Lyon is concerned by figures that indicate 13 percent of residents living in Utah are Latino but make up only 6 percent of the electorate.
"Are we making sure that we are being representative and that we are supporting our diverse communities," said Lyon. "That we are supporting our Hispanic and Latino populations and making sure that they are getting the same opportunities that we are giving everybody else?"
State lawmakers are considering Medicaid expansion proposals after Utah Governor Gary Herbert said he will push for some form of expansion to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act. State Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D- Salt Lake) is serving on a governor's committee assigned to evaluate the financial costs of expanding Medicaid.
About 15 percent of Utah residents are uninsured. Chavez-Houck said lawmakers must decide if Utah should participate in a full expansion program to offset the costs of extending health benefits to 111,000 of the state's poorest.
"And here we are, still unable to move and in the meantime people aren't getting covered and we are losing our portion of what should be ours," Chavez-Houck said.
Thanks to a class of fourth graders from Monroe Elementary in Sevier County, Utah is changing it's state tree. Last September, the students gave a presentation to Gov. Gary Herbert about changing the state tree from the blue spruce to the aspen.
Bill sponsor Sen. Ralph Okerlund (R-Sen. District 24) said Senate Bill 41, which would change the state tree, passed unanimously in the Utah Senate earlier this week.
Utah State Sen. Steve Urquhart (R-Washington County) said his anti-discrimination bill, SB100, appears to be dead this week as party leaders in the senate decided to avoid legislation that may impact the federal gay marriage court case.
Urquhart pushed for GOP leaders to allow the bill to have a hearing.
He also called for supporters to leave notes about the bill on the Utah Senate doors. Since then, supporters left about 450 notes urging legislators to hear the bill.
One gun bill has been scrapped and others are still on the table in this session of the legislature. Cache Valley Rep. Ed Redd's house bill 202 would have limited the ability of those who have been civilly committed to the custody of a mental health institution to get a gun.