A bill that would prevent Utah insurance companies from discontinuing health care coverage for people in prison was approved in committee Wednesday.

Like most Utahns who lose their health coverage when they lose their jobs, convicts often lose their coverage under current law, which makes the state responsible for the medical bills incurred while in custody.

HB22, which was approved with one dissenting vote by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, is the fiscally responsible thing to do, especially during tight economic times, said sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.

"We see the (medical industry) trying to protect its wallets, and we're just trying to protect (taxpayers') wallets," since they must pick up the tab when insurers rescind policies because a person is in jail, Ray said.

Two insurance industry representatives said medical insurance policies don't factor in the risks of incarceration when someone signs up, and there's no way to factor in risks for those who face the heightened threat to physical harm inside prisons.

The bill would allow for exemptions, including injuries caused by physical violence. But otherwise, if an inmate arrives insured under a health plan, any covered physician visits or medical procedures while the person is in custody of the state Department of Corrections would be the responsibility of the primary payer.

The bill now moves to the floor of the House for consideration.

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com