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Plan to give birth control to more people under Medicaid passes legislative hurdle

The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday,
Feb. 5, 2021.

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker's second attempt to expand Medicaid birth control and family planning services to more residents passed its first legislative hurdle on Friday.

"Contraceptive care is medical care," said bill sponsor Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City.

HB128 would require the state's Medicaid program to apply for a 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.

"This is the level at which it's widely understood that there's a gap, which is about 80,000 Utahns in need of care," Kitchen told members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Friday.

Family planning resources lead to "more enduring marriages" and savings for the state's Medicaid program over time, Kitchen said.

Currently, those who make up to 95% of the federal poverty level qualify for family planning services in Utah.

Resources covered in the current law include sexual health education and family planning counseling, other medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care routinely provided as part of a family planning service visit.

Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, asked if the bill "has anything to do with abortion."

Kitchen said it only has to do with preventing abortion. The bill would not fund abortions, he said, but instead it would cover the various forms of contraceptives.

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Kitchen ran the same bill last year, but it stalled before the end of the session. It passed the Senate but died on the House floor the last day of the session.

Danielle Howa Pendergrass, a nurse practitioner who owns Eastern Utah Women's Health in Price, said she offers women's health services to more than 20,000 women and girls in the area. Before she opened the practice nine years ago, she said the rural area was "void of a single women's health care provider."

Many of the women she serves grew up in intergenerational poverty and work in the fast food, hospitality and child care industries, among others. Many of them can't afford insurance, including those offered through their employers.

"Living in and on the fringes of poverty, many of these women simply cannot afford to purchase the contraceptive method they want or need," Pendergrass said.

Stacy Stanford, policy analyst with Utah Health Policy Project, said the bill will help those who have just climbed out of poverty. She called the bill a valuable health benefit for mothers and babies.

Maryann Martindale, with the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, said "there are so many far-reaching positive outcomes when you provide family planning, especially to this segment of the population."

The bill received a favorable recommendation from the committee. It will move to the full Senate for consideration.

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