April 1, 2012

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It’s a Wrap

A Review of the 2012 Utah Legislature

Dave Gessel, J.D., Vice President of the Utah Hospital Association

April 1, 2012

The 2012 Utah Legislature was relatively quiet compared to past years, with heavy issues like immigration and liquor largely avoided. Here are some observations from local leaders regarding three issues that directly impact the business community.

Healthcare Tweaks and Challenges - The Legislature Turns Medicare into a State’s Rights Issue

Utah business leaders should be generally pleased with the actions of the 2012 Utah Legislature when it comes to healthcare issues. Recent national studies continue to confirm that Utah has the highest possible quality of healthcare at the lowest possible cost of any state in the nation. While healthcare in Utah can and should be improved, it is important to note that we are doing very well compared to almost any other state.

The just finished legislative session was unusually calm on healthcare issues compared to a number of past sessions. For the first time in years, the Legislature wasn’t faced with a significant budget deficit. This allowed the Legislature to provide adequate funding for Medicaid and continue on the path of moving most of Medicaid into managed care, which many believe will stabilize and improve Medicaid in the future for citizens, businesses and healthcare providers.

The Legislature also continued its reluctance to pass “mandates” on insurance coverage as that has typically increased health insurance premiums for individuals and employers. There were many such mandate bills that were either not considered or defeated during the 2012 Session. This is an important signal to Utah businesses that the Legislature understands how important it is to limit healthcare costs.

The Legislature continued its interest in increased transparency in healthcare by passing a bill that will require more public reporting with regard to healthcare-acquired infections. This was a collaborative effort between the Utah Department of Health, the Utah Hospital Association and healthcare providers to continue to improve the quality of healthcare in Utah by providing valuable information to healthcare consumers.

One of the more unique bills of the session was the Healthcare Compact bill. This bill creates a compact between states to effectively take over the funding and regulation of healthcare from the federal government. There was a lot of discussion of this bill and it passed as a “states rights” alternative to the current system. The odds seem long for the Healthcare Compact ever to be actually adopted, as it will require the U.S. Congress to voluntarily give up its control of healthcare funding and oversight. However, discussion of this issue will continue, as the bill also includes direction for the Legislative Healthcare Task Force to take time to look at the ramifications of this actually occurring.

Other important healthcare bills were debated and passed, but perhaps the most important healthcare policy issues of this year will play out at the U.S. Supreme Court and in the November election. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely decide the future of the Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare”) by June. Regardless of what the Supreme Court does, the future of healthcare reform will continue to rest with the U.S. Congress and U.S. President. The cost and future of healthcare programs will have to be addressed, no matter who is in charge after the November elections.

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