A Utah Capitol News Report
By Lis Stewart
Utah went one step closer to joining a compact with other states to opt out of federal health care reform Monday when the Senate passed Senate Bill 208 and sent it to the House for consideration. The vote count was 21-8.
SB208, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, proposes Utah adopt the Health Care Compact, which could comprise of several states wanting to take control of health care from the federal government and put it in the states’ individual hands.
“We are the best managed state in the nation,” Sen. Adams argued during the morning’s floor debate. “We can manage these dollars better.”
The bill’s language asserts “the federal government has enacted many laws that have preempted state laws with respect to heath care, and placed increasing strain on state budgets, impairing other responsibilities such as education, infrastructure, and public safety.”
If the bill passes the House, is signed by the governor, accepted by the United States Congress and then the Compact is adopted by at least one other state, health care will be Utah’s responsibility. According to the bill’s language each member state of the compact will have the ability to legislate out “the operation of federal laws, rules, regulations, and orders regarding health care that are inconsistent with the laws and regulations adopted by the member state.”
An advisory commission comprised of the states in the compact would also be created under SB208. The purpose of this commission, as stated in the bill, would be to study health care issues and make non-binding recommendations to the member states. It will also exist to assess the health care programs of each state.
Programs such as Medicare and Medicaid would be funded yearly by federal block grants. According to the bill’s language, these mandatory grants would not be conditional of any action or adoption of a regulation, policy, law or rule, as many federal monies are. Concerns were voiced by other senators about the possible burden placed on health care programs if they fall under state control.
The eventual financial cost of state control could negatively impact these programs, such as higher taxes or health care cuts for seniors, said Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay. “This is more than a benign message bill,” she said.
Adams said state control will make changes to health care policy easier without the hassle of going through the federal government first.
Similar health care compact bills are going through eight other legislatures this year. The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to join the interstate Health Care Compact February 15. The bill now goes to their Senate. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, four states signed health compact bills into law in 2011, and the 12 others attempted did not.
For more information, see this Sutherland Institute video of Sen. Adams explaining his bill: