Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Members of the Anti-Hunger Action Committee listen to Sen. Lyle Hillyard, left, during a Medicaid Interim Committee meeting Monday.

Closing the Utah State Developmental Center in American Fork is being put forward as a potential cost-cutting step for the state's share of Medicaid costs.

The Legislature's Medicaid Interim Committee met Monday to discuss ways to cut Medicaid expenses as federal cutbacks force the states to cover increasing costs.

Fraser Nelson, executive director of the disability law center, said not only is institutional care for those with disabilities outmoded, but running the center, located across the street from the Mt. Timpanogos LDS Temple, eats up 25 percent of the budget for the Division of Services for People with Disabilities.

Institutional care costs the state $400 per person each day. Community based care costs $75 per person each day. Closing the Developmental Center and transferring these resources to community-based care would allow more people to be served, Nelson said. Currently, there are 1,700 people on waiting lists for community care.

Bill Tibbitts, director of the Anti-Hunger Action Committee, said his group — who appeared at the meeting wearing matching black T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Basic health care is not a luxury" — wanted to make their feelings known.

The Anti-Hunger Action Committee is looking to amend the Utah Constitution to say that it is the government's responsibility to make sure no Utahn dies because he or she lacked access to health care.

Advocates took front-row seats, listening as different solutions to the Medicaid funding problem were presented by various stakeholders.

These stakeholders included Judi Hilman of the Utah Health Policy Project, who suggested the creation of preferred drug lists; joining a pool of several states to buy drugs in bulk and save money. She also suggested disease management — helping those with chronic illness manage their illness — as another method to "contain costs" without cutting services to Medicaid recipients.

Robert Ence of AARP Utah said Medicaid was created for the neediest and most vulnerable segments of society, including children living at and below the poverty level.

"It's a safety net for children in poverty," he said.

To keep this safety net in place, Ence suggested many of the same solutions as Hilman, as well as promoting healthy lifestyles by offering incentives for healthy behaviors such as quitting smoking. Healthy lifestyles can prevent the need for costly health care, saving the state money while still providing services to those who need them, he said.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, asked if there was a way to limit benefits to those who made poor life choices, such as smoking or not wearing a seat belt, putting themselves at risk and increasing costs to the state.

Tibbitts didn't like the direction the committee appears to be headed.

"It seems like the focus really is on cutting services, making low-income people pay more," he said. "From our perspective, the committee is out of whack."

Tibbitts said the commit- tee is focusing on one side — cutting costs — but not the other, finding a way to provide health care to every Utahn.

Darla Bell, the board co-chairwoman for the Anti-Hunger Action Committee, agreed.

"Everyone in this world, I don't care who they are, everyone deserves health care," she said.


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