Wednesday, February 25, 2015


by Paul Gibbs

As the Utah State Senate voted 21-8 to bring Healthy Utah to a third and final reading on Tuesday, February 25, many senators took the opportunity to stand and make long speeches about the reasoning behind their vote. The most intense and ironic of these was from rabid Healthy Utah opponent Allen Christensen, who ironically stated with an emotional appeal that "We're not talking about voting with emotion, we're talking about voting with the facts."

So let's examine the facts of the differences between Healthy Utah and Christensen's SB 153:

Healthy Utah will bring coverage to 47,000 Utahns in the coverage gap. SB 153 will leave 46,000 without coverage.

Healthy Utah returns over $2 billion in Utah taxpayer dollars to the state. SB 153 rejects all federal funding and is paid for entitely by the state, with a higher cost per patient than any other proposal.

Rejecting Healthy Utah will in no way  contribute to deficit reduction, as the money currently paid by Utah tax payers will then go to Medicaid expansion in other states.

Healthy Utah is the result of two years worth of study and deliberation by top state and federal officials as well as the medical community and insurance industry. SB 153 was unveiled in a single afternoon by a small committee of legislators with no public feedback and recommended in a partisan vote.

The Utah Hospital Association has conditionally pledged $22 million per year in support of Healthy Utah.

SB 157 covers only the "medically frail" and therefore does not accomplish providing routine and preventive care.

No state which has expanded Medicaid has experienced "crowding out" those covered by traditional Medicaid.

The agreement with the federal government allows Utah to back out of Healthy Utah if the federal government does not fulfill its commitment.

Despite fears from Healthy Utah opponents that employers will drop employee coverage as a result of Healthy Utah, strict federal penalties are are in place (including fines of up to $2,000 per employee dropped) for employers who drop coverage. No state which has expanded Medicaid has yet experienced employers dropping coverage.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints issued a statement supporting a compassionate solution to the coverage gap issue involving consideration from both the public and private sector. Healthy Utah is the only current proposal developed by cooperation between the public and private sectors.

Research by Harvard University has determined that an average of 316 Utahns will die per year without coverage.

Healthy Utah is supported by:
The Salt Lake County Council
United Way of Salt Lake
Intermountain Healthcare
Molina Medical
University of Utah MedicalCenter
IASIS Healthcare, Mountain Region
MountainStar Healthcare
Association For Utah Community Health
Association of Substance Abuse Providers
National Association of Social Workers
University of Utah Healthcare
Utah Academy of Family Physicians
Utah Academy of Physician Assistants
Utah Association of Addiction Treatment Providers
Utah Association of Local Health Departments
Utah Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics
Utah Healthcare Association
Utah Hospital Association
Utah Medical Association
Utah Nurse Practitioners
Rural Hospital Network
Utah Nurses Association
Utah Occupational Therapy Association
Utah Public Health Association
University of Utah Health Plans
Alzheimer's Association
American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network
American Heart Association/American Stroke Association
Catholic Community Services
Coalition of Religious Communities
Community Action Partnership
Community Action Partnership
Diabetes Association
Disability Law Center
First Step House
Legislative Coalition For People With Disabilities
National Alliance on Mental Illness - UT (NAMI)
National Association of Social Workers
National MS Society
National Tongan Association of Utah
New Frontiers for Families
Odyssey House
Peace and Justice Commission
Pioneer Park Coalition
Planned Parenthood of Utah
Susan G. Komen
Utah Citizen's Council
Utah Health Decisions
Utah Health Policy Project
Utah Housing Coalition
Utah Pride Center
Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA)
Utah Women's Health Coaltion
Voices For Utah Children
Women's State Legislative Coalition
Sentencing Comission
Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council
Utah Chiefs of Policy Association
Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice
Utah Law Enforcement Legislative Committee
Leavitt Group
Salt Lake Chamer
Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce
South Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce
Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce
Utah Food Industry Association
Utahn Manufacturers Association
Utah Mining Association
Utah Retail Merchants Association
Gail Miller, Larry H. Miller Group
Karen Hunstman
Lane Beattie, Salt Lake Chamber
Mark Miller, Mark Miller Dealerships
Associated General Contractors
Harmon's Pharmacies
Smith's Pharmacies

SB 153 is supported by:
Sen. Allen Christensen

So, I guess for once Sen. Christensen and I agree. Let's vote with the facts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


by Paul Gibbs

Over the past two weeks, two alternatives to Medicaid expansion have made it past the Utah Senate Health and Human Services Committee. I testified in behalf of the first, Senate Bill 164, Healthy Utah (as sponsored by Sen
. Brian Shiozawa). The second was Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Sen. Allen M. Christensen. While there are two plans, only Healthy Utah offers a workable and well-reasoned solution to the problem of Utah's coverage gap.

Christensen, one of the most vocal and staunch opponents of Healthy Utah, has presented a plan to cover only those who qualify as "medically frail". This fits his ideological belief that taxpayers shouldn't be providing healthcare to "able-bodied" people who don't work (despite the fact that multiple studies have conclusively proven that the majority of those in the coverage gap are working), and also fits his belief that the most vulnerable among us do deserve some help. While I greatly take issue with the first concept, the second is admirable, and demonstrates that, as insensitive as Christensen has sometimes appeared, he isn't heartless. I'll admit it took me some time to reach that conclusion, but speaking to some of his colleagues who have told me about good things he has done for patients and the medical community (while disagreeing with his current stance) has convinced me that we're not dealing with a melodrama villain here, just a basically decent man who also happens to be so ideologically stubborn that he refuses to see facts as facts if they disagree with his politics.

The first problem with the "medically frail" option was illuminated by Se. Edward Redd, a Republican who supports Healthy Utah: there simply is no such thing as a stable, easily identifiable group of "the medically frail". Health is not a steady state, it's something that changes over time. Those who are healthy now may be "medically frail" in a short time. Many may think they're healthy and, because they are uninsured, choose not to perform necessary routines such as check-ups. I fell into this category. It was only because my primary care doctor was called as an LDS Mission President and I was required to meet my new doctor to get some prescriptions renewed that I lucked into getting the diagnosis that my kidneys were failing and I needed a transplant. Under the status quo, I simply would have kept going until it was too late. I would not have qualified as "medically frail" under SB 153.

The second problem is that even those would qualify are now placed under an undue burden to prove that they do. My friend and fellow activist Stacy Stanford(who is in a wheelchair to a neurological condition) would not qualify as "medically frail" for the same reason that she doesn't currently qualify for traditional Medicaid: she can't afford to go to a doctor and get diagnosed. It's the height of irony that a plan presented by a staunch opponent of "socialized medicine"  (often claimed by its opponents to involve unnecessary bureaucratic complications) would, by its very nature, increase the bureaucratic hoops people are forced to jump through to get care. 46,000 people would be left with no option but to either pray they don't get sick, or, perversely, to pray they get sick enough to qualify for help/

Third, SB 153 simply makes no fiscal sense. It would allow $260 million of Utah taxpayer funds to keep going to other states, while 46 thousands Utahns go without any access to insurance. It would cost Utah an additional $30 million per year, while providing access to only about 10,000 Utahns. While Healthy Utah is the result of 2.5 years of study from the public and private sector, SB 153 was unveiled in a single meeting by a small group of legislators, with zero public input. It would be a tragic absurdity to accept a poorly reasoned plan which doesn't work financially or medically just to send a message that the majority of Utahns didn't support Barack Obama. I actually think Obama knows that already.

While two plans are on the table, only one solution is. Please contact your legislators immediately and tell them you support Healthy Utah, the real solution, and not the ill-advised SB 153.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


by Paul Gibbs

4-1. That was the final number of the vote to take SB 164, Healthy Utah, past the senate Health and Human Services Committee and on to the senate as a whole.  It came at the end of a long and tense meeting where advocates on both sides of the issue, including me, made their cases. Thankfully, they who were with us were more than they who were against us (literally, though if you wish to infer that I mean that in any other way you're free to do so), and the only no vote came from committee chair Evan J. Vickers (Sen. Allen M. Christensen, also on the committee and one of the staunchest foes of Healthy Utah, had to leave the meeting early).  The other members of the committee saw past the paranoid Obamacare arguments of the Anti-Healthy Utah speakers, and voted the only way that made sense. While I think those of us who testified (perhaps even me) deserve some credit, the lion's share goes to Republican Sen. Brian Shiozawa, the sponsor of the bill, and man I'm proud to say appears in Entitled to Life. Senator Shiozawa was a joy to watch both at the HHS committee meeting and the earlier house Social Services Appropriation committee hearing. His knowledge and poise allowed him to run circles around his opponents, and he perfectly conveyed the truth of our message: Healthy Utah is good for everybody and it would be absurd and foolish to reject it.

But as gratifying as yesterday's victory was, less than 24 hours later the time for patting ourselves on the back is already over. There are bigger hurdles ahead: the senate, where plenty of strong opposition (including from Sen. Christensen) still exists, and then the house, which is going to make the senate look easy. For the moment we've stolen the momentum away from Christensen's "Frail Utah" plan, but we can't afford to squander that. More than ever we need to be relentless in pressuring GOP legislators to support Healthy Utah. Please note that I am not trying to take partisan sides, it's just that we really have no opposition from Democrats on the hill. But aside from Shiozawa Republican legislators Edward Redd and Ray Ward also distinguished themselves yesterday. If Healthy Utah passes, it will not be a Democratic victory, it will be a Utah victory.

Two legislators of particular importance are Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser and, as always, Rep. Jim Dunnigan. They can be contacted at:

Sen. Niederhauser:
Home: 801-942-3398
Work:  801-538-1035
Cell:    801-742-1606
Fax:    1-866-283-7751

Rep. Dunnigan:
801- 840-1800

The first battle of this session is won. But we'll have to double our efforts to win the two battles ahead.