Thank You Veterans

Thank You Veterans

Each year we set aside a day to honor the men and women who have served our country in uniform. It is an opportunity for us to extend our gratitude for the sacrifices made by those who serve in many places throughout the world, often in less-than-comfortable circumstances, in order to protect our way of life.

While levels of freedom around the world are on the decline, we can thank our soldiers and veterans for safeguarding us and protecting our liberties – for without those who fight for what is good and right, only those who fight for power would remain.

Richard Watson Gilder, an American poet, declared that, “Better than honor and glory and History’s iron pen, was the thought of duty done and love of his fellow-men.” Those are the military men and women we have known, and to each of you we express our deepest appreciation and thanks on this Veterans Day.

Daw:  Why Don’t Payday Lenders Give Us All The Facts?

Daw: Why Don’t Payday Lenders Give Us All The Facts?

Click here to read the published op-ed

In a recent Salt Lake Tribune op-ed on payday lending, national payday lender executive Dennis Shaul is correct in pointing out that just because a payday loan is stretched out to 10 weeks does not mean the borrower has defaulted. What does this mean for the borrower? Have they rolled the original loan over several times? Do they now have several outstanding loans to cover the building interest? Are they being hit with excessive fees and interest?

For reasons that defy common sense, the state of Utah has never required, and payday lenders have never volunteered, this important piece of information. This leaves the state and public with an information gap when determining whether or not the payday lending industry is behaving in a responsible and ethical manner. All we know from the newly released state Department of Financial Institutions’ report is that more than 45,000 loans have been charged five times the original interest, which could amount to more than 400 percent APR.

If payday lenders aren’t going to be transparent, then we must turn to other sources that shed additional light on the number of defaulting loans and the resulting consequences. Utah State Court documents show that in 2014, payday lenders filed more than 14,000 debt collection cases in the small claims (9,754) and district (4,759) courts.

A typical payday lender claim runs $2,000 to $3,000, according to my contacts in the court system, but it’s not at all uncommon to also find claims well in excess of $10,000. Furthermore, my court contacts assure me that those large dollar amount cases are the result of payday lending, not payday lenders providing other types of loans.

What makes those amounts so frightening is how they fly in the face of what two payday lending representatives told me: That it’s impossible for what begins as a $350 payday loan to balloon to $10,000 or more. They point out that after 10 weeks, a $350 loan will only have accrued around $260 in interest, at which point state law prohibits any further interest, so the total claim would have to be under $650.

This is true. Therefore, in my view, the only way a payday lender could be suing a client for thousands of dollars would be if they had given them multiple loans and allowed each one to accrue the maximum amount of interest before default. This leads us to draw two conclusions: the default rate could be much higher than the 14,000-plus court cases would indicate; and the real problem with payday lenders is doling out multiple loans simultaneously to one individual.

Shaul seems to agree with this last point when he states that the majority of borrowers take out one or two loans at a time and pay them back in full. So my question is this: If the real problem landing borrowers and lenders in court comes from borrowers having multiple loans on the books at the same time, why allow this practice? Regulation limiting multiple loans has worked remarkably well in other states. It does not cripple the industry, as some have contended, but it has stopped the abuse of financially vulnerable people.

Surprisingly, even though this type of regulation has clearly been an effective deterrent to irresponsible lending (and borrowing), and has not prevented customers from receiving a single loan and paying it off in full, the payday lending industry has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against such regulation, preventing a similar commonsense solution from being passed in Utah.

Which begs one final question. Why?

Rep. Bradley Daw serves on the Social Services Appropriations subcommittee and represents District 60 in Orem.

Spendlove: The Next Steps on Utah Medicaid Reform

Spendlove: The Next Steps on Utah Medicaid Reform

 

The Next Steps on Utah Medicaid Reform
October 26, 2015

By Representative Robert Spendlove

Members of the House Republican Caucus met recently to review the latest proposal from the Governor and Legislative Leadership in the House and Senate to expand Medicaid to low income individuals in our state. While I commend the “Group of Six” for their work on developing the plan, ultimately I decided that I could not vote for the proposal. There are several reasons why I voted against it. The primary reason is I could not support a plan that was inconsistent with my values and objectives and I felt it shifted the balance of power too much toward the federal government over state government. However, I remain committed to finding a long term solution to Medicaid that truly reforms the system and represents the Utah way.

Overview of the Proposal

The latest proposal was called “Utah Access Plus”. It was very similar to the “Healthy Utah” proposal that was proposed during the 2015 Legislative Session, in that it extended coverage to those earning up to 138 percent of poverty through a subsidy for participants to purchase insurance on the private market through existing health insurance exchanges. There were a number of good components of the plan, including a requirement that people with employer based health insurance must stay on their existing plans. Also, for those whose incomes are above the poverty level there were a few measures to encourage healthy behaviors and mitigate negative impacts of people moving in and out of insurance on a continual basis.

However, the critical component of the Utah Access Plus proposal was the funding mechanism for the plan. One of the sticking points of Healthy Utah was there was no proposal of how to cover the $78 million annual cost that the State of Utah must pay to expand Medicaid. The Utah Access Plus plan proposed to cover the approximately $28 million of costs through existing funds available to the Department of Health. The remaining $50 million would be covered via a tax on the medical community in the state. Those who were proposing this plan argued that the $500 million of extra federal dollars that will come to Utah as a result of expanding Medicaid will essentially pass through the state and will flow to those in the medical community. Therefore, they proposed a “claw back” provision to bring back $50 million of revenue from the medical community. They argued that the net benefit would still be $450 million and thus the medical community would be better off.

My Concerns about the Proposal

When the plan was released to the public we experienced the problem of unintended consequences that often occurs in public policy proposals.

Unacceptable level of federal intrusion – My top concern about the Utah Access Plus proposal was the extent of federal intrusion into what is supposed to be a state program. I am a strong believer in federalism and that states are closer to the people they serve and thus better able to address the needs of their citizens than the federal government. The federal government too often imposes a “one-size-fits-all” model to programs, and Medicaid is no exception.

For instance, in Utah, the “coverage gap” of those who lack health insurance is comprised entirely of people living below the poverty line. These approximately 45,000 people were denied coverage due to a fundamental flaw in the way the Affordable Care Act was designed. In other words, a faulty design of the ACA is the reason the coverage gap exists. I am willing to find ways to help those in the coverage gap. They need our help. One of the fundamental jobs of government is to provide a safety net to those in need during times of extreme hardship. Those people in the coverage gap definitely need this helping hand.

However, the federal government has stated on several occasions that they are not willing to let us just cover the gap and help these 45,000 people in need. Instead, they insist that we must cover an additional 80,000 people who earn over the poverty level and already have access to subsidized health insurance through the federal exchange that covers their needs. There is NO POLICY ARGUMENT why the state should expand Medicaid beyond 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The only argument is that it is what the federal government is demanding and if we want their money we have to give in to their demands.

Cost Shift – One of the main objectives of the Utah Access Plus proposal was to shift the cost, and the responsibility of paying for the Medicaid expansion to those who directly benefitted from expansion. This clawback provision is a method often used as a way to mitigate the impacts of bringing in new revenue sources. If the proponents of Utah Access Plus had the choice, they would have narrowly tailored the proposal to apply only to those who directly benefit from Medicaid expansion.

However, the federal government again specifically prohibited Utah from narrowly tailoring the tax to those who directly benefit. Instead, they insisted that any tax must be applied broadly to the entire group of those in the medical community. Therefore, those who have virtually no benefit from expansion would still bear the additional costs of expanding Medicaid. This includes pediatricians, retired physicians, and those who provide community service at free health clinics, to name a few.

Uncontrollable Risk – As one of the best managed states in the country, we in Utah pride ourselves on being fiscally responsible. However, the federal government refused to allow us to design a program that was fiscally responsible, and one that mitigated risk and controlled costs. They specifically said that we could not include enrollment caps, spending caps, or any type of budgetary limits in our Medicaid expansion proposal.

The Utah Access Plus proposal tried to address this issue by shifting the risk of cost overruns to the medical community through the proposed tax. Unfortunately, this risk was more than those in the medical community were willing to assume. This is the reason the Utah Hospital Association chose not to endorse the Utah Access Plus proposal.

Again, this shows the fundamental difference between the federal government and the Utah state government. Where the federal government is able and willing to deficit spend and operate on borrowed money, the State of Utah must operate on a balanced budget. If enrollment goes above projections it is seen as a positive to the federal government. At the state level, enrollment above expectations causes cost overruns and must be mitigated through more tax increases or through diverting money from other parts of the budget. In Utah, where 56% of state funds go towards education, the only place where we could find additional revenue for Medicaid in the state budget is by taking money away from our school children. To me this is not acceptable.

What’s Next?

While I did not support the Utah Access Plus proposal that was presented to the Legislature, I remain committed to finding a solution that will reform our Medicaid system and make it more responsive to the needs of the people of our state. In fact, I am currently working on a bill for the 2016 legislative session that I feel will represent the Utah model for Medicaid reform.

The Utah Model – The first principle of the bill is that we as a state must define our goals and objectives, rather than letting the federal government define them for us. However, I recognize that Medicaid has been designed in a way that states must get funding from the federal government to operate. Ideally, I would support a block grant from the federal government with no strings attached. However, under the circumstances, I understand that we must operate within the current bounds of federal law. Therefore, my bill is contingent on the federal government granting the State of Utah the enhanced match rate of 90/10 federal to state cost sharing. This cost mechanism is consistent with what the federal government is currently offering to any state that expands Medicaid.

Cover the Gap – Second, my bill proposes to COMPLETELY FILL THE COVERAGE GAP, by expanding Medicaid up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Since the entire coverage gap is comprised of people earning less than the federal poverty level, there is no reason to expand beyond that level.

Control Costs – Third, my bill proposes to put recipients on traditional Medicaid, using a managed care model to control costs and realign incentives. One of the main causes of large cost increases in healthcare is the fact that there is an incentive to increase the number of services offered to a patient. This is called a “fee for service” model of care. My proposal is to expand the model of reimbursing based on the quality rather than the quantity of care a patient receives. It is something Utah helped pioneer a few years ago and it is an area where we should focus our efforts going forward.

Mitigate Risk – Fourth, my bill will include the ability to mitigate budgetary risk. This is done through enrollment caps, spending caps, and cost controls, such as more strictly enforcing reimbursement criteria. For instance, one good part of the Access Plus plan was that the state would not reimburse emergency rooms for non emergency expenses and it would not reimburse emergency transportation costs for non emergency uses.

Another idea Utah has been working on for many years is developing a prioritized list of services for those on Medicaid. Once the state reaches its budget limit it then ceases to reimburse for services beyond the preset limit determined. This is a method already in use in Oregon but the federal government has so far not allowed Utah to develop a similar model.

Include a Work Requirement – Fifth, the Utah Model of Medicaid reform should include a work requirement for those who receive coverage. Keep in mind that those currently in the Medicaid coverage gap are those who do not have disabilities. By definition, they are those who can work and should be working.

In the early 1990s, President Bill Clinton, working with a Republican Congress, was able to pass a fundamental restructuring of the US welfare system. At the time, welfare was on the verge of total collapse. Part of that welfare reform was a work requirement to qualify. It was a critical component to the success of the proposal because it helped people move through the transitionary period of needing government assistance. It is extremely important that Medicaid also help move people through the period of needing government assistance. It is not fair to them nor to society to use the power of government to discourage work through the public policies that are set.

Conclusion

I understand that what I am proposing as the Utah Model of Medicaid reform is not consistent with the expressed desires of the current Administration in Washington. However, we’ve spent too much time trying to design a reform model that they will approve. Instead of letting the federal government drive our public policy development process, we should develop our own process, working with our circumstances in mind. When our counterparts at the federal level are ready to work with us I am more than willing to work with them. However, they must recognize the vital role that states play in developing and implementing policy and they must stop viewing states as merely subcontractors who implement their policies without question.

Utah is a very unique state. Where others struggle, we get things done. Where others give up, we continue to work. I am confident that working together we can all find a solution to this generational issue. The people of Utah deserve not just any solution, but the right solution.

 

 

Thurston: Where Did the Coverage Gap Come From?

Thurston: Where Did the Coverage Gap Come From?

Where Did the Coverage Gap Come From?
October 27, 2015

by Rep. Norm Thurston

Have you stopped to wonder whether the coverage gap came from? Was it always here or did it suddenly appear? You may have heard some of my House Republican colleagues say that Obamacare created the Coverage Gap and wondered how that could possibly be the case.

When we say that the coverage gap was created by Obamacare we really mean it. Here is a little Utah insurance market history to clarify where the gap came from.

Before Obamacare became law in 2010, low income Utahns could buy inexpensive individual insurance policies on the open market, but they had to buy in while they were still healthy and continue to pay their premiums. Otherwise, it really wouldn’t be insurance, would it?

Those who had waited to buy insurance until they were sick were rightfully excluded from participating in the market, but they did have an option. They could buy in to HIPUtah, Utah’s “high risk pool.” This arrangement allowed them to join in by paying a higher price, which seems fair given that they hadn’t paid in while they were healthy, and protected the insurance market from moral hazard and higher premiums.

Of course, premiums in the high risk pool were higher than the regular market, but not as much as you would think. State tax funds were used to subsidize the premiums with the net result that premiums averaged about 25-50% higher than the market.

Furthermore, HIPUtah received millions in federal grants each year that were dedicated to low income populations to help keep the premiums affordable. In fact, when HIPUtah combined the state subsidies with the federal grants, the net premiums for people under 100% FPL were often lower than the regular market price.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? But that’s not all. It was fairly common for health care providers, churches and other charitable organizations to chip in to help cover premiums for people with immediate needs.

It was not uncommon to see an enrollment form come in with a check from a hospital for the first month’s premium. And that makes sense, too. A hospital system would much rather pay a couple months of insurance premiums to keep someone insured than provide uncompensated care.

So there was no real gap as a combination of private and public resources came together to take care of the most needy. Not that this was a perfect system, but it worked for Utah. It kept premiums in the market place low because people couldn’t sit out while they were healthy and jump in at the last minute when they wanted someone else to pay for needed care. It also provided a fair and affordable option for everyone that wanted insurance. Low income people, healthy or sick could find affordable insurance options.

But Obamacare did away with this Utah-grown system. Federally mandated community rating and guaranteed issue replaced the risk adjusted market (and premiums are still soaring). Federal grants were ended in order to fund other ACA priorities and ultimately HIPUtah was phased out. The last insured person’s coverage ended about a year ago.

If the truth were told, it was Obamacare that took away opportunities for low income people to take care of themselves, creating the coverage gap with no realistic, sustainable plan for providing an alternative for low income adults.

We did not create the gap. The ACA created it and provided no sustainable solution to cover it.

Next Up: Rep. Thurston talks about options for helping the most vulnerable among us without breaking the state budget

Op-ed: Commissioner deserves credit for solving meat-inspection problem, not blame

Op-ed: Commissioner deserves credit for solving meat-inspection problem, not blame

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE PUBLISHED OP-ED

The free press was once esteemed as the fourth branch of government, or fourth estate. This week’s reporting about the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) by The Salt Lake Tribune demonstrates how that responsibility has been forsaken. Instead, we get deadline-driven stories lacking true oversight on UDAF and its current and former employees.

The accusations levied against Commissioner LuAnn Adams and current UDAF employees was concerning not only as elected officials with legislative oversight, but also as taxpayers. We immediately reached out to UDAF to understand what really happened at the Dale T. Smith facility in Draper and with Warren Hess.

UDAF did lose authority to continue meat inspections at the Dale T. Smith facility. This was the result of an audit by USDA that found on-sight UDAF veterinarians were certifying cattle they had not been visually inspecting. The oversight of the on-sight veterinarians was under the authority of Hess, the acting state veterinarian at the time.

Veterinarians were certifying meat they had not seen. Veterinarians had been arriving hours after the plant had opened and were incorrectly signing off on work that had been completed at the plant prior to their arrival. When this was brought to the attention of Adams, she immediately made changes.

The people that had direct oversight of the problem, like Hess, walked off the job and took to social and traditional media to deflect blame. These important facts of the situation were omitted from recent media coverage of Adams and UDAF.

Adams has recently hired a new state veterinarian, Barry Pittman. Pittman, in addition to being a licensed veterinarian, has a master’s degree in public health and has served as the director of Emergency Programs Division for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Most recently he worked as the Utah front line supervisor for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service who oversees all of the meat inspection facilities in the state. Pittman also served 13 years as a veterinarian in the U.S. Army. If we were to identify the perfect combination of background and experience for the state vet position, Pittman is the perfect fit.

The sign of a true leader is one who accepts responsibility for making a mistake and takes the action necessary to stop that mistake from happening in the future. Adams had employees who made mistakes. She promptly dealt with the issue and put in a process to prevent it from happening again. We appreciate the work of Adams and her team as we continue to work together to protect Utah’s food system.

Rep. Michael K. McKell has served District 66 in Utah County in the Utah House of Representatives since 2012. He co-chairs the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee. Rep. Lee Perry has served District 29 in Box Elder and Weber Counties in the Utah House of Representatives since 2010. He is a member of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee.

 

Commentary on HB 96: Real Estate Transaction Amendments

Commentary on HB 96: Real Estate Transaction Amendments

Representative Brian Greene is sponsoring legislation this session, HB96, that deals with regulation of a specific type of real estate investment. There has been confusion in the public and media regarding what the bill does and how it changes the regulatory authority.

HB96 deals with real estate investments known as tenant-in-common, or TIC. Until 2005 there was uncertainty as to how, or under what authority, these investments should be regulated. The state at that time chose to place the regulatory authority under the Division of Real Estate. It was done in such a way though, that it gave the Division no authority to ensure compliance by the seller.

The current statute places the duty to disclose on the licensed real estate agent rather than on the seller. A couple of problems have arisen out of this structure:

·      Oftentimes the agent doesn’t have access to the information and the seller, who has no duty to disclose, doesn’t provide it, resulting in no disclosures.

·      Sellers can also legally use in-house sales people, who aren’t required to be licensed agents and therefore aren’t subject to the current disclosure requirements, meaning that yet again sellers can sell their properties without any disclosures.

The sole purpose of HB96 is to shift the burden of disclosure from agents to sellers so that whether they use in-house reps or licensed independent agents, sellers will be required to make certain disclosures. The bill also lists some of the most important ones, which doesn’t exist in the current statute, and provides authority to the Division of Real Estate to add further disclosures as they deem appropriate.

The recent amendment simply included one additional parameter – that an item required to be disclosed be reasonably available to the seller – that must be considered when adopting disclosure requirements by rule.

Under the amended HB96, the Division has broad rule-making authority and they are given broad enforcement authority that doesn’t exist in current statute, all while making it more likely that investors will have access to the information they need to make an informed decision.​