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Health care decisions made in the Utah Legislature 2013 session could shape the future of Utah's health care system, as lawmakers are expected to debate a state-run health insurance exchange and possible Medicaid expansion included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Gary Herbert has submitted various letters to the United States Department of Health and Human Services asking for flexibility in implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the health care exchange. On January 3, Utah became one of four GOP-led states to get the OK from the government to run its own health insurance exchange.

Judi Hilman of the Utah Policy Project said Utah's current exchange falls short of new requirements, and that proponents of the health care overhaul will need to work together to keep the pressure on state leaders to expand Utah's program to include protections in the law.

In addition to making Utah's Avenue H health insurance exchange program fit law requirements, state leaders will need to address the health care law's Medicaid expansion. Utah is one of several states still undecided on that expansion, and some lawmakers have expressed doubts about an expansion and in the Medicaid program itself, while others have pushed for expansion.

In 2011, 411,926 Utahns were uninsured. Of those, approximately 34 percent are believed to be eligible but not enrolled in state and federal programs such as Medicaid.

Access to health care, limited largely by costs, is essential, while innovation, compassion and common sense must combine in order to create policy that encourages personal responsibility while protecting those who are especially vulnerable.

These and other health care issues are likely to emerge throughout the 2013 session. Follow the Deseret News' ongoing legislative coverage to learn more about health care and well-being, as well as other issues that matter to Utah families.

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