One of the most contentious bills to pass the Utah Legislature in the 2012 session was Senate Bill 208, the Health Care Compact, sponsored by Senator Stuart Adams. But the discussion around the bill will continue during this year’s interim session.
See Also: AARP Utah Wrap-Up for 2012 Utah Legislature Session
This bill joins Utah with other states in petitioning Congress to exempt them from federal laws and regulations governing health care programs – including Medicare and Medicaid – leaving the states to make all decisions on the use of federal funds associated with these programs. The bill was amended to address several unanswered concerns, such as how joining the Compact would impact Medicare, disease control, the slow growth of funding and the state’s ability to manage these programs. If these questions are not adequately addressed by 2014, the decision to join the Compact will expire.
AARP Utah is strongly opposed to moving control of Medicaid and Medicare to the states. First, the block grant would not keep pace with medical inflation, meaning a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to the state, as medical inflation is much higher than “cost-of-living” inflation. Second, Utah’s health care costs would be tied to other states in the Compact – Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Georgia – all of which have significantly poorer health and higher costs than Utah. Third, the gap between the block grant funds and the actual cost of medical care for the hundreds of thousands of people who are served by Medicaid and Medicare would be shouldered by the low-income, disabled, and senior populations who are beneficiaries.
Comments made by former Utah Department of Health Director Dr. David Sundwall in response to a Salt Lake Tribune article about the Compact include the following: ”All I can say is be careful what you wish for the complexities and costs of these programs are overwhelming. It would overwhelm any state to “take on” the financing and management of these public insurance programs and in the process [will] shortchange the care of those who need health care services the most, the elderly and the poor.”
In Utah, Medicare recipients already pay an average of $5000 for out-of-pocket health care costs, but this amount would increase significantly if the program was block granted. The cost to administer these programs at the state level could also be extremely costly. AARP Utah will closely monitor the progress on this bill and urge the state to reconsider its decision to join. Support for the Compact is mixed among governors. Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill joining Arizona to the Compact; Governor Gary Herbert refused to issue a veto and has indicated his support for state control of these programs.
Also under close scrutiny this interim session will be rules governing the Utah Health Insurance Exchange. Utah was one of the earliest states to create an insurance exchange, but there is still work to be done toward rules concerning governance, cost, transparency, and basic coverage plans. AARP Utah will continue to advocate for consumers to ensure that plans are clearly described, fairly priced, and provide needed services.