A move to put access to basic health care in line with public education in the state Constitution failed to pass out of a legislative committee Wednesday.
At the same time, however, lawmakers voted to send a resolution to Congress affirming states' rights to address the growing problem of the uninsured without federal interference.
The difference for members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee appeared to be the mandatory nature of the health-care access bill, a constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake.
The resolution would have asked voters whether to amend Utah's constitution to require the Legislature to establish and maintain a system to provide "affordable, medically necessary" health care for all Utah citizens.
McCoy's language is modeled after that already in the state constitution requiring the state to provide a public education system for its citizens.
"I personally believe that proper health care is essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the citizenry," McCoy said.
While committee members didn't necessarily disagree, some expressed concern that including health care in the constitution would discourage citizens from taking control of their own health-care needs.
"With a right also comes a responsibility," said Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City. "By putting this in the state constitution as you've written it, you're really saying, regardless of what you do, we're going to take care of you."
Still, many agree with McCoy that making sure everyone has access to affordable health care should fall upon the state.
"We feel it's the state's responsibility to ensure that no more Utahns die because they can't afford basic health care," said Adam Burgett with the Coalition of Religious Communities.
Immediately after voting 2-3 against McCoy's SJR4, the committee approved a resolution sponsored by Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, to urge support of the Health Care Partnership Through Creative Federalism Act.
Now awaiting approval in Congress, the federal act would put individual states at the center of health-care reform. It encourages a wide range of approaches to address the increasing number of uninsured Americans.
"Dollars to doughnuts what's going to emerge from that is some pretty good model that we could do," Bell told committee members.
Current health-care policy is largely governed by federal rules and federal money, tying state policy makers' hands when it comes to creative innovation, he said.
"This is about experimenting at the state level, and I think we can do a better job than the feds will let us do right now," Bell said.
SCR6 has the support of the Utah Health Policy Project, whose executive director, Judi Hilman, said the federal legislation is the perfect tool for "thinking outside the box" when it comes to health-care reform."We really believe that if we are going to get our arms around this problem, the action is going to be at a state level," Hilman said.
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