After placing an $18 million tax credit portion of the bill into an omnibus tax legislation to be passed by midnight tonight, state senators Tuesday unanimously approved a wide-ranging health care system reform bill.

HB133, a multi-year, multi-faceted reformation of the health care delivery system in Utah, provides tax credits for people who buy their own health insurance. Unlike employers, who can purchase insurance benefits plans with pre-tax dollars, individual must purchase their plans with after-tax income. HB133 gives them a tax break for those purchases.

The bill, because it was amended, now goes back the House, where it is likely to pass easily and was approved unanimously on Feb. 7.

Momentum for the heralded health care reform legislation seemed to slow the past two weeks — it had been tabled in the Senate since Feb. 20. But House Majority Leader David Clark, R-Santa Clara, the bill's sponsor, said the fiscal aspects of the bill had to be combed out first before it could move forward. Placing the specific tax credit with other tax legislation this year made more sense than leaving it with the predominantly intent language in the majority of the bill, Clark said. "Support for it is not waning in any sense," he said.

Two other bills intending to facilitate implementation of HB133 were passed 10 days ago. Both are to help ensure that the insurance market portion of Utah's coming consumer/private industry-driven health care reformation received overwhelming approval.

HB168 and HB370 open the markets, particularly in in the rural areas of Utah where both medical services and access to them are limited. HB370 makes adjustments to the Children's Health Insurance Program, opening access in the rural areas of the state, where low-income families who qualify for the insurance haven't been signing up.

To help deal with the prohibitive distances and lack of services that families in the central and southeastern part of the state live with in getting health care, the bill authorizes CHIP administrators to contract with a managed care program where benefits are available within 30 paved road miles. If services aren't available within 30 miles, CHIP administrators could contract with individual providers on a fee for service basis.

CHIP is the subsidized plan for children in families in households with working parents with incomes too high for Medicaid coverage and whose workplace doesn't offer insurance and who can't afford private insurance.

"In the effort to provide access to insurance coverage for all Utahns, we've got to do everything we can to ensure that families who qualify for programs already in place also enroll," Clark said.

One of the prerequisites for that legislation to be implemented is HB168. It resets parameters for new health insurance plans that carriers are likely busy developing now so they are in place a year from now.

It mainly It encourages insurance companies to design heretofore unheard of affordable plans for individual families and small businesses. In Utah, everyone can get insurance—if you can afforded the premium.

Pre-existing conditions or having access to caring for a chronic illness can jack up a premium by two or three times. Individual Utahns and some families report spending $700 to $1,500 a month for medical coverage. Premiums have increased on average by 72 percent since 2000, while incomes have increased by about 7 percent.

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