Legislative Update: September 2016
Health Reform Task Force
At a recent Health Reform Task Force meeting on Sept. 29, a discussion was held regarding changes in the health care market since the institution of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the ever-growing increases in coverage costs.
In the individual market, these increases are unprecedented, driving prices up not only for individuals and businesses but also for taxpayers who are ultimately responsible for nearly two-thirds of U.S. health care expenditures.
It is becoming increasingly clear that many of the warnings from members of the Legislature about the unpredictable and unknowable costs associated with Medicaid expansion, especially the hybrid version known as Healthy Utah, were prescient. We now have two years of actual experience in this new, post-ACA market, and there is little question as to the deleterious effects on state and individual budgets of further expanding healthcare entitlements.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Analyst’s office, the most recent cost estimates for Healthy Utah are nearly $700 million higher than estimates presented to the Legislature in 2015. If Utah would have expanded Medicaid through what many call “full Medicaid expansion,” the new cost projections would have been a mere $380 million higher than originally anticipated.
This means that Healthy Utah, the state-based solution touted as the answer to counteracting some of the fiscally harmful effects of Medicaid expansion through the ACA using private insurance to accomplish its full reach, would have actually been far worse for the state budget and for taxpayers than simply expanding the traditional Medicaid program, which was already bad enough.
We’re just beginning to see more of the devastating cost effects of the ACA as a result of the sunsetting of two of the three mitigating programs that were a part of the legislation, known as the “Three Rs” – reinsurance, risk adjustment and risk corridor. These programs were necessary for the short-term appearance of stability within the health care exchanges but of the three, only the risk adjustment remains beyond 2016. The result is year-over-year double-digit increases that make health insurance much less affordable for the very people the law was meant to help.
Already, 17 of the 23 co-ops have gone under and insurance companies across the country are sustaining massive losses in their exchange business, offset only by the premiums paid by everyone else in the market. At some point, even that won’t be enough.
Had our Legislature chosen to commit our state to this new and increasingly unmanageable entitlement, there would have quickly come a day of reckoning where lawmakers would have been faced with the Hobson’s choice of either cutting over a hundred million dollars from education or social services, where nearly as much in priorities already go unfunded each year, or doing away with Medicaid expansion in its entirety.
Justice Reinvestment Initiative
Building on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) passed during the 2015 legislative session, Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City, along with their respective police forces, coordinated an operation in the Rio Grande neighborhood downtown to clean up the streets and protect residents, businesses and the vulnerable populations in the area.
On September 29, a targeted strike was performed after months of observation and identification, and numerous individuals were brought in with the intention of providing a thorough assessment and, where possible, diverting those eligible to behavioral health and treatment programs.
Between the city and county, over $1.3 million was set aside to pay for intensive drug treatment for up to six months for those willing to participate, as well as to fund the criminal prosecutions of those breaking the law. In preparation for this targeted strike, detox and residential treatment beds were set aside, as well as prison beds not subject to overcrowding releases.
As Sheriff Winder pointed out in the press conference announcing the actions, because this approach is new and largely untested in our community, some of what is being done will not be successful, much of it will be highly successful and taken in its totality, it will be much more successful than what has been done in the past.
This effort will be ongoing and will have an immediate impact on the health and safety of the Rio Grande neighborhood and the surrounding areas. We hope that throughout Utah, cities, counties and the state can continue working together in a productive way to help solve the most pressing problems within our communities and improve the quality of life of all of our residents.
The purpose of JRI is to sort out the hardened criminals from those most needing mental health and/or substance abuse treatment in order to divert them outside of the criminal justice system and treat or rehabilitate them accordingly. Once appropriate determinations are made as to the needs of each individual, assistance, treatment or punishment will be pursued with the hope of better outcomes for individuals and for the community as a whole.
Walt Brooks Appointed to the Utah House of Representative
Rep. Brooks was selected by the Washington County Republican Party Central Committee to replace former Rep. Don Ipson. Rep. Ipson resigned from the House the morning of Wednesday, September 21 to fill the vacancy in the State Senate after the recent resignation of Sen. Steve Urquhart. Rep. Brooks will represent House District 75.
During the remainder of the 2016 legislative session, Rep. Brooks will be assigned to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and Political Subdivisions interim committees and the Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee.
“I am honored and look forward to this opportunity to represent the constituents of District 75,” said Rep. Brooks. “I’m ready to hit the ground running.”
Rep. Brooks received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Dixie State University. Previously, he owned and operated of small businesses and was the director of sales for an electronics company. Currently, he is the president of RxTrax, a software company that specializes in tracking deliveries for the pharmaceutical industry. He enjoys serving in the community and is fluent in Chinese.
“We’re excited to welcome Representative Brooks to our esteemed body,” said Speaker Greg Hughes who administered the Oath of Office.
Additional interim highlights can be found here.