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Setting Hatch and Herbert straight

Published July 14, 2011 11:55 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For nearly 50 years Medicaid has provided cost-effective, high-quality health coverage to Utah's kids. Our state's children get their vaccinations, have their broken arms set and their cavities filled through Medicaid and CHIP. As a result, Utah children are healthier and live in more secure families, where losing a job doesn't have to mean becoming uninsured.

Unfortunately, some politicians, including Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert, have been telling a different story. Let's set the record straight.

In June 2010, Medicaid provided health coverage to 60,000 more Utahns than in June 2007. But Utah Medicaid spending is 16 percent lower. State Medicaid expenditures are expected to rise in fiscal year 2012 as the federal government's stimulus program ends.

But even with that, Utah will spend about the same amount ($374 million) next fiscal year as in fiscal year 2008 ($372 million). But again, our state will cover 35 percent more Utahns next year than in 2008.

Covering more people with less money is called efficiency — doing more with less — and it's exactly what politicians say they want.

Now let's talk about quality. Approximately two-thirds of the Utahns covered by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program are children. And kids and adults from every community in our state are turning to Medicaid and CHIP because a tough economy has left no part of Utah untouched.

According to the state's own survey, these Utahns have access to care that is comparable to coverage through private, employer-sponsored insurance. That same survey shows that their health outcomes are significantly better than those of the uninsured. That is an important consideration because many of our neighbors would quickly become uninsured without Medicaid and CHIP.

Those results are bolstered by national reports — one by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, and another by MIT and Harvard University economists. The economists went even further, finding that Medicaid leads to significantly better health, greater access to care, and lower out-of-pocket medical expenses and medical debt. Like the state's own data, these studies show that Medicaid works every day for kids and families in Utah and all over America.

Medicaid and CHIP are by no means perfect. We must continue to work hard to pay doctors and other providers enough to ensure that having coverage translates into getting care.

We need to ensure that beneficiaries are receiving high quality care, so every dollar we spend delivers the best possible value. And we need to continue to make Medicaid and CHIP even more cost-effective.

But the facts show that Medicaid and CHIP have been a great success. And the hundreds of thousands of Utah families' health and financial security have been strengthened by Medicaid and CHIP are a living reminder that these investments pay off every day.

So, to our leaders in Washington and in Salt Lake City, enough of the partisan attacks. Enough of the half-truths and political spin. Enough of the election year posturing and scapegoating.

Let's have an honest conversation that acknowledges the costs of covering uninsured Utahans through Medicaid and CHIP, but one that also recognizes the value they deliver every day for our state and the families who live here.

Lincoln Nehring is senior health policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children in Salt Lake City. Email: lincoln@utahchildren.org