Monday, June 30, 2014


by Paul Gibbs

Considering the hyper-partisan state of modern political discourse, you'd be making a reasonable assumption if you thought that support for Healthy Utah was divided firmly along part lines, with liberals supporting the acceptance of federal funding for health care expansion, and conservatives opposing it. But you'd be wrong.

Consider that the proposal for Healthy Utah comes from Utah's popular Republican Governor Gary Herbert. Whatever one thinks of Herbert, one of the last things anyone would call him is "liberal". Healthy Utah also has the support of Republican Senator Brian Shiozawa, who sponsored it in the 2014 general legislative session. And Senator  Peter Knudson, a Republican member of the Utah Health Reform Task Force, informed me personally in an email that he would support Health Utah. Ray Ward, a Bountiful Physician who tells the moving story of the late Emily Young in Entitled To Life, seems poised to be elected as a Republican legislator this November.

And support among the citizens of Utah is hardly divided along party lines. 84% of Utahns who called themselves "Very Conservative" stated that they supported Healthy Utah over not expanding coverage in a recent Dan Jones & Associates Poll.

Not only that, but recognition of the need t care for those in the gap crosses religious lines as well.  LDS Bishop David Heslington, who estimates that 1 in 4 members f his Ward fall into the coverage gap, calls caring for the poor "a moral obligation".  Catholic Bishop Re. John C. Wester says that "Utah cannot proclaim itself a pro-life state so long as it refuses to provide access to basic health care coverage to a significant portion of its citizens". And Episcopal Bishop Scott Hayashi has said that if legislators block expansion because of their values, "We need to get leaders with better values."

Whether it's conservatives who oppose Healthy Utah because it involves a provision of the Affordable Care Act, or liberals who refuse to get behind the compromise of Healthy Utah because it isn't full Medicaid expansion, the time for partisanship is long over. We need to pass the most widely accepted option and bring health care to those who need it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


by Paul Gibbs

On Tuesday June 23, the Deseret News ran an article co-written by Utah legislator Mike Kennedy, entitled What Medicaid Expansion Isn't. Kennedy is one of the members of the Utah Health Reform Task Force who is firmly opposed to expansion on ideological grounds, so the fact that he wrote an article decrying it was no surprise. The fact that the article is so sloppily one-sided actually did surprise me. So, by way of rebuttal, I present a list of a few things expansion/Healthy Utah is.


Kennedy's article claims there is "no evidence" that that the program will save lives. What about the testimony of Doctors like Ray Ward and Brian Shiozawa who run into patients every day who could have their lives saved by Medicaid expansion?  What about the Utahns in the coverage gap who tell their stories in Entitled To Life (though, as Kennedy still hasn't responded to my emails, maybe he hasn't seen it. I know he didn't attend the Town Meeting in February where they spoke). Or, for more authoratative evidence, What about the 2014 Harvard Medical Study which states the in Utah alone, 316 people will die per year without expansion? Anybody out there heard of Harvard?  I'd call that more compelling than the vague evidence Kennedy sites from the Foundation For Government Accountability (an organization with which I was not familiar. A quick search of their website and the preponderence of terms like "tax and spend" left me me with the impression of the group having a pronounced right wing agenda), which repeats  the same old anti-"Obamacare" arguments of increased access by the currently uninsured getting in the way of the currently insured, a problem which has yet to show signs of materializing anywhere since the ACA was implemented.Incidentally, the article goes to great pains to use the word "Obamacare" as often as possible instead of referencing Utah Governor Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah plan, trying to create association with something which is unpopular in Utah rather than something Utahns overwhelmingly support.


Kennedy's article claims that "no Obamacare expansion" allows the state to make its own decisions and rules, but that's what Governor Herbert's team has begun negotioating for months. Plain and simple, if Healthy Utah passes, it will be a compromise between state and federal governments based on specific Utah requirements such as purchasing people private insurance. That's why they keep calling it "A Utah solution".


Nowhere does Kennedy's article address the fact that turning Utah turning down the federal funding does precicely nothing for deficit reduction, as the money will only go to other states (as its doing now) if we don't take it, but we'll keep paying those taxes under the ACA. So we can get help for Utahns or not, but it's absurd to act is if it makes a difference to the deficit.


According to Mayor Ben McAdams and the Salt Lake County Council, starting in January 3,200 people in Salt Lake County will be without these services if Healthy Utah is not adpoted.


A recent Dan Jones and Associates poll shows that 88% of Utahns favor Healthy Utah over doing nothing, which seems to be Kennedy's plan as he offers no alternative.

We've had plenty of time to study, and the fiscally and morally repsonsible thing to do is accept federal funding and expand access to health coverage through the Healthy Utah plan.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


by Paul Gibbs

A Letter To The Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune:
"I just re-read the Tribune editorial ("County steps up – Salt Lake is right about Medicaid," June 14). I am absolutely disgusted by the tail-between-the legs, hat-in-hand request that the Legislature please approve the Herbert/insurance industry plan, Healthy Utah.
Why is it always that the poor, working poor and disadvantaged Utahns must accept either nothing or something slightly better than nothing? Where is the outrage that Herbert’s plan has the primary benefit of giving the health insurance industry the money he is seeking from the feds? Where are the voices of reason that speak up and demand that the BEST solution to Utah’s health care be adopted? Where are advocates that speak on behalf of the poor and powerless? Why is it always alright that Utahns receive a lousy deal while the citizens of other states get the good deal?"
-James F. Sargeant, Salt Lake City

Some supporters of Medicaid expansion are questioning why leading supporters are embracing Governor Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah plan instead of sticking to our guns and demanding the full expansion of traditional Medicaid offered under the Affordable Care Act. Isn't Healthy Utah watered down, putting in the unnecessary middle-man of private insurance? Isn't there a work requirement that isn't there in Medicaid expansion? The answer to those questions is, at least to a degree, yes.  

While the work requirement is actually one of the bigger hurdles to negotiation with the federal government (though the governor's negotiators are confident it will approved), it's very popular with Utah residents. cited by 70% in the recent Dan Jones & Associates poll as their biggest reason for preferring Healthy Utah over full expansion. And that, in a nutshell, is what it comes down to: Healthy Utah has a chance of passing in Utah. Full expansion doesn't. Politicians, activists and others have lobbied tirelessly for the full expansion for over a year and a half, and it has failed multiple votes in the legislature. We have to keep in mind that we're dealing with a very partisan legislature which we're having a difficult time getting to accept a plan from a popular governor from their own party. A plan which a two-thirds majority of Utahns support. Utah Health Reform Task Force co-chairman Allen Christensen (R-Ogden) has declared himself "110 percent opposed to this expansion", and far too many other members of the legislature (notably House Speaker Becky Lockhart) have similar attitudes. Getting Healthy Utah past this sort of partisan stubbornness will be challenging enough. Getting them too pass a full Medicaid expansion would be impossible.

My first choice was full expansion, and it was very painful to let go of that hope. But Healthy Utah will still cover 111,00 people, comparable to the number covered under expansion. And as far as liberal vs. conservative ideology, I don't care. I'm a committed Democrat who proudly voted for Barack Obama twice and supports the admittedly imperfect Affordable Care Act. I didn't vote for Gary Herbert. But the lives and health of thousands of Utahns matter a lot more to me than party politics. GOP legislators putting parisant politics ahead of all else is exactly why we still haven't passed any form of expansion.  If supporters of expansion are as inflexibly hardline as opponents continue (in many cases) to be, then we'll be stuck with the one option which is utterly unthinkable: doing nothing.

The Utah Health Reform Task Force meets again to discuss Healthy Utah on July 17. Before then, we need as many Utahns as possible to contact them and let them know they want a special session to pass Healthy Utah. We can't afford to wait until next year. It's literally a matter of life and death.

Task Force Members and Email Addresses:

Senator Allen Christensen - 
Representative Jim Dunnigan
Representative Dean Sanpei
Representative Mike Kennedy
Representative Francis Gibson
Senator Stuart Adams
Senator Peter Knudson
Representative Rebecca Edwards
Representative Marie Poulson
Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck
Senator Gene Davis

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


It's important to remember that not only does Utah need Medicaid expansion/Healthy Utah, the people of Utah want it. Results of a poll from Dan Jones & Associates, released this morning, clearly show that the continued delay of and opposition to Healthy Utah is not the will of the people. The following information come from the poll, and the graphics are supplied by Utah Health Policy Project and Voices For Utah Children:

These poll results clearly demonstrate that the people of Utah are far less politically and ideologically divided

Friday, June 13, 2014


In November of 2008, I went in for what I believed was going to be a check-up with a new primary care doctor.  I knew that for about the past year and a half I’d been getting sick a lot more frequently, but I didn’t really think about that. I just wanted to get the appointment done with.

By the time I was 5 years old I had 9 surgeries for a kidney condition called bilateral ureteral reflux (also called hydronephrosis).  As a kid you don’t fully understand that the doctors are helping you, not just poking you with stuff, and by the time I was old enough to understand I had a fear of doctors and hospitals that was embedded as deeply as Indiana Jones’ trauma-induced fear of snakes. Besides, I was an extremely busy guy: I was working part-time for the Clark Planetarium and as a part-time actor, going to college part-time, and was a full-time care provider for the two greatest kids in the world—my niece and nephew. My sister and her husband both had to work full-time to support their family, so I was living in their basement and helping pay rent while taking care of the kids.

The appointment was far from routine. I was told that I had end stage kidney failure, and would need a kidney transplant.  That was scary enough. The fact that I had no health insurance made it flat out terrifying.  I was lucky, because the generosity of friends and strangers was overwhelming. First of all, a good friend donated his kidney to me (I had so many friends volunteer to be tested that the transplant clinic told me to stop having people call. I really didn’t think people liked me anywhere near that much) I had done a few plays at the Hale Centre Theatre, one of the most popular performing arts organizations in Utah, and they jumped in to raise funds at their performances. I received $10,000 from them that would go towards my medical bills.
The transplant surgery itself cost $79,000.  My kidneys were in bad enough shape that a separate surgery to remove them was required, then six weeks of dialysis before the transplant could take place. The medications I needed to keep my body from rejecting the kidney would cost roughly the same amount per month as rent on a one-bedroom apartment.In the end, I was able to have my surgeries and stay alive, largely because of Medicaid.

Among other factors, I was able to receive this lifesaving surgery because of a great nation and state which has the wisdom and compassion to use programs such as Medicaid to help those who need it.
While we have to deal with a crushing stigma that people who need public assistance are lazy or “takers,” most people who need Medicaid are like me: hard working, decent people who don’t think they are “entitled” to anything, they just want a chance to receive the medical care they need to stay alive.  It’s been incredibly disheartening since the surgeries to hear the debate over the Affordable Care Act in general, and Medicaid expansion in Utah in particular.

Many friends, even some who made contributions to my surgery, echo the line that they’re being asked to “pay lazy people’s medical bills.” Sometimes I hear the argument that people are willing to give of their own free will, but government programs are wrong. I benefited as much from amazing friends and wonderful strangers as anyone could. I had a theatre which comes close to selling out 500 seats per show, 8 shows a week, asking generous patrons to help, and those patrons opened up their hearts and gave an astonishing amount. But as I said before, it wasn’t enough. Nowhere near enough.

Everybody who doesn’t have health insurance now is at least as deserving of that kind of generosity as I am, but few of them have the kind of support system I had. Tens of thousands of Utahns who fall within the “Medicaid Gap” are losing their health or their lives to the delay on expanding Medicaid, a delay which is occurring purely because of the ideological stubbornness and willful ignorance of the Utah State legislature, who consistently avoid opportunities to hear from the people in the gap and learn who they are and what they need.   Utah needs this. And I can’t imagine what could be more in line with the religious beliefs so many in our state (including myself) share than caring for our fellow human beings. It's time for our legislature to support Governor Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah program and help the people of Utah.

After the 2014 Utah legislative session passed without any action on Medicaid expansion, I decided that the best way for me to help was by going what I know best: Film. Though I'm usually a narrative filmmaker who is prone to comedies, action movies and the like, I decided to tackle a documentary, which I called Entitled To Life. The film tells the stories of some of the 57,000 people caught in the coverage gap. I believe that getting to know and understand the human factor of this equation makes it clear that this has to be done. I hope that the spread of the film, and the stories and content of this blog can help to raise awareness of the desperate need for action.