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Utah children win gains in health care, but Medicaid expansion still undecided

Published: Thursday, March 14 2013 11:45 p.m. MDT

A few people walk through the Capitol in the late hours of final day of legislature at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — In last-minute efforts, Utah lawmakers tried first to usurp and then ultimately reinstate Gov. Gary Herbert's authority on decisions dealing with health care reform.

"I don't know why we'd want to tie our hands right now while the landscape is still shifting," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who made the final move to substitute HB391 Wednesday.

Weiler said calculated actions will bring the best results for the state, especially with important issues such as health care.

Public policy won out in the end, with passage of the controversial bill, which provided direction to the governor to consider economic facts gathered by a consulting group, public opinion and projected impact, and legislative action on the looming decision of Medicaid expansion.

Weiler said the report, commissioned by the Utah Department of Health, could be available in about three weeks.

Other than the one surprise bill, issues stemming from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were largely untouched and will remain topics for discussion in the upcoming months and years as the law is implemented.

The Utah Legislature also made headway in protecting children and families from various perceived harms, including secondhand smoke in enclosed spaces.

HB13, sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, makes it a misdemeanor to smoke with anyone 15 and under in a vehicle, but fines can be waived for first-time offenders with participation in a smoking cessation course.

Arent said the time was ripe for protecting "a vulnerable person who cannot protect themselves."

Victims of divorce may have a better chance at getting what they deserve from the spoiled union, as lawmakers created a definition of fault when determining alimony with passage of HB338. Fault still plays no part in the divorce decree but can be used by a judge when setting payback from an unfaithful spouse or one who has threatened harm to his or her family or finances.

Lawmakers, via HB165, also made sure that applicants for child care positions throughout the state will now be subject to federal background checks in addition to statewide criminal reports, to ensure children are not being cared for by someone who has committed a serious crime.

Children in low-income families will also get a chance at free hearing aids through HB157, which establishes a three-year pilot program to determine whether the devices can make a difference when they are used earlier in a person's life.

Also helping children early in life, bills were passed to encourage infant testing or enhanced educational outreach for cytomegalovirus (HB81) and congenital heart defects (HB276), both of which have the potential to cause lifelong defects.

Other bills dealing with family and individual health care largely only modified words or made technical changes in existing statute. Lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would provide reimbursement to families who put their children into treatment for autism, which has proven to be costly and out of reach for some.

Oral chemotherapy, however, was given parity with the more common intravenous chemotherapy, which will provide some cancer patients financial relief.

E-mail: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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