Just hours before advocates for Utah's poor were about to pronounce the Legislature's health care reform a circus-sized flop—and do it under the big top of the Capitol rotunda with a clown and everything — they decided the show would not go on.

Money has a way of changing people's minds, they said Thursday, especially if it's funding to heal a chronic sore spot in state Medicaid coverage—adult dental and vision. The benefits had fallen off the lawmakers' spending priority lists, which would mean about 40,000 seniors and disabled Utahns who had just gotten the benefits back this year after a five years without them.

They decided a clown, a mascot named "Curtis the Healthcare Clown" that directly referenced House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, would be the best way to show the public that the situation was no laughing matter.

Medicaid recipients were ready to throw a pie in his face for blocking a vote last week by the Executive Appropriations Committee that would have rescued the benefits. The proposed measure would have granted permission to the state Department of Health to try and scrounge up the $2.8 million needed to keep them intact.

Then on Monday, when the numbers weren't in the list of spending priorities compiled by both the House and Senate, the writing was once again on the wall. The only problem was that that writing, and Curtis' motivations, was misinterpreted.

Funding was authorized Wednesday evening by Executive Appropriations, which is made up of legislative leaders from both parties in the House and Senate. That committee has the final say in budget decisions, which meant the reinstatement of the benefits and the cancellation — or at least postponement of — Curtis the Healthcare Clown.

So instead of a guy in a big suit barking about how all the talk about healthcare reform this session was just a big bunch of clowning around, advocates were urging folks to thank lawmakers — especially leadership — that they came through for them, and with the greatest of ease.


E-mail: [email protected]