Utah Rep. Norm Thurston recently shared his view of the upcoming legislative session with the state of reform, saying his top health policy priorities are funding adequate services for people with disabilities and ensuring an adequate supply of mental and physical health professionals across the spectrum of care.
Thurston is bullish about progress on health care during this year’s session — which begins Jan. 17 — because of Utah’s nonpartisan approach to the issue.
One of the ways the legislature is expected to support the health care workforce would be to reduce the burden on physicians who practice telehealth or practice medicine outside of Utah. House Bell 159which Thurston had filed prior to the 2023 session, would allow professionals with a health care license from a different state to provide telehealth services to Utahns under certain circumstances.
“With the rapid rise in the use of telehealth, we’ve put ourselves in a bad spot because of… [with] Telehealth providers, you have to be licensed in the location where the patient is,” Thurston said. “And so if you want to be able to provide access to a patient, no matter where they are at any time because they might be on vacation, you might Assigned in another state to operate temporarily, for up to 56 licenses, if you include areas designated to treat that patient.
What is this [bill] Ho would say, `I can’t control what other states do, but as far as Utah is concerned, if the telehealth provider is licensed where the telehealth provider is located, assuming that’s their home base most of the time, then this Good enough for us. This should greatly increase access to telehealth providers and reduce the burden and costs of telehealth as well, so I hope that’s what we achieve with that.”
The bill also says that professionals can provide telehealth services in Utah under a single license, but they still have to comply with Utah-specific laws, regardless of the state in which the license is granted.
Thurston also envisions reforms that reduce the regulatory burden to make it easier for people who want to train for mental health professions to obtain the competencies they need to be able to treat people. This includes shorter training times and making more mental health services available with faster turnaround.
Thurston said he was part of a larger national policy discussion addressing immigration and accreditation laws for international medical graduates and healthcare professionals.
In the short term, he said, the legislature is working on legislation that could remove barriers for foreigners who have training and competencies in the field of doctors’ skills, in addition to other healthcare professions. He hopes the policy will allow immigrants legal status to treat the sick and address the health care shortage in Utah.
Thurston will sponsor two intergenerational poverty bills, which have been recast as Amendments to Educational Savings Incentive Program From the last cycle, which provides financial incentives to parents of children living in situations of intergenerational poverty to save for their children’s higher education through State tax credits and other financial incentives.
One of the modifications that Thurston is developing will be used Temporary assistance to families in need Funding to provide grants to individual provinces to provide such financial incentives in a coordinated and targeted manner to those living in poverty within their jurisdiction. Thurston hopes to secure funding for the proposed large-scale pilot program that would allow counties to address the fragmented nature of public assistance, remove roadblocks to upward economic mobility for households, and pool needed services.
Ensuring availability of Medicaid services for people with disabilities is another area Thurston will focus on for this session. With Medicaid rescheduled to begin in April, the Department of Health and Human Services making preparations To ensure that Medicaid enrollees who may lose coverage during a redefinition have other options. Thurston said he would like to devote more state support to families with a disabled relative and the services they need.
“Part of the problem is that because of the public health emergency, our Medicaid program has ballooned dramatically,” Thurston said. The number of people registered [and] Program cost [are] Huge compared to what it would have been without the public health emergency. And so we are concerned that during the downturn, that program may not return to pre-pandemic levels. There was probably an actual expansion of enrollment and benefits that we’ll have to figure out how to bear over the long term once the federal support ends.”