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SALT LAKE CITY — During its second chance in front of a Senate panel, a bill that would allow more Utahns to receive family planning services and birth control under Medicaid received a 4-1 favorable recommendation Tuesday.
“We tend to talk a lot about social and community issues up here during the 45-day session, and I understand that there are big value and human emotions that get involved here. And unfortunately, we are frequently distracted by the politics and rhetoric and the wedge nature of a lot of these issues,” explained bill sponsor Senate Minority Caucus Manager Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City.
But he said SB74 is a way to “find common ground on our shared values.”
The bill would require the state Division of Health Care Financing to apply for a Medicaid waiver or a state plan amendment seeking a 90/10 match of funds from the federal government. If the waiver or amendment gets approved by the federal government, those making up to 250% of the federal poverty level would receive family planning services.
In a previous Health and Human Services Committee meeting on Feb. 4 — during which some committee members expressed concern over the fiscal note attached to the bill, and the implications of increasing Medicaid benefits — the bill did not get voted upon.
Family planning services are now available to those making under 138% of the federal poverty level under Medicaid expansion. Services include sexual health education and family planning counseling, as well as medical diagnosis, treatment or preventative care during family planning visits. Abortions are not included.
SB74 would provide contraceptives and family planning services to an estimated 10,000 Utah women who need it, Kitchen said Tuesday, citing state data. That would prevent more than 2,000 unintended pregnancies and 730 abortions, he said.
“Increasing access to family planning leads to increased educational attainment, higher wages and greater labor force participation for both men and for women. This in turn improves their lifelong earnings and the living conditions for their children,” Kitchen said.
States with similar programs have found they’re budget-neutral, he said.
Utah doesn’t have publicly funded family planning service at all, Kitchen said, “which is unusual in the United States.”
Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, said Tuesday he remains concerned about the bill’s fiscal note and “what the unknowns are” with Medicaid expansion.
Implementing the bill would cost the state a total of more than $500,000, according to the fiscal note.
Increasing access to family planning leads to increased educational attainment, higher wages and greater labor force participation for both men and for women. This in turn improves their lifelong earnings and the living conditions for their children.
–Bill sponsor Senate Minority Caucus Manager Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City
“It’s not because I don’t think that there are some values, I just haven’t balanced out those values yet in my own perspective, in my own head,” Sandall said in explaining his intent to vote against recommending the bill.
When the meeting opened to public comment, Jessica Sanders, a University of Utah researcher speaking on behalf of herself, said access to family planning services and contraceptives is “critical” for women, children and families in Utah.
In statewide polling, Sanders said she and colleagues found that 80% of Utahns believe “it’s important for state government to provide funding for reproductive health services, including family planning and birth control for lower-income individuals.”
While Utah has taken “positive steps” on the issue, the program would fill a remaining coverage gap, Sanders said.
Stacy Stanford, policy analyst for Utah Health Policy Project, said SB74 “would greatly benefit those who have just climbed out of poverty and those just kind of teetering on the edge, one financial crisis away from slipping back in.”
Kathleen Kaufman, representing Utah Nurses Association, called the bill “logical, compassionate and sensible.” She said she believes it will decrease the use of both legal and illegal abortions in the state, decrease intergenerational poverty and return initial costs to Utah “many times.”
Kitchen said that although he doesn’t want the bill to “get tied up in the abortion conversation” as multiple bills that address abortion remain on the legislative agenda, SB74 is a chance to be “proactive” and would save the state money in the long term.