Amid arguments that it would help reduce both abortions and welfare assistance, the Senate gave an initial nod Wednesday to providing low-income women with long-acting birth control, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs).

HB12 passed 24-3 and previously cleared the House 53-21.

A final vote is likely weeks away, however, because senators now will wait to see if the estimated $800,000 a year needed to provide such services to about 600 women makes the final cut as lawmakers weigh budget priorities.

Two medical doctors pushed the bill: Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, and Sen. Brian Zehnder, R-Cottonwood Heights.

Zehnder noted the measure would allow Utah to seek a Medicaid waiver to allow such services and said Utah is one of only seven states currently without such a waiver.

“We anticipate an approximate 3-1 return on our investment” by cutting abortion rates and other public assistance, he said.

“The majority of abortions in the state are for unwanted pregnancies. This is going to allow a few women to avoid that unwanted pregnancy by taking away the financial stumbling block,” Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said. “The savings to the state are going to be immediate.”

Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, said it would help prevent cases in which “a woman who doesn’t qualify for Medicaid gets pregnant. The moment she becomes pregnant, she does qualify for Medicaid. If we can help that person avoid getting pregnant with the sort of services this bill supports, it’s saving the state money.”

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said, “I just don’t know why we didn’t do this before.”

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Allow expansion of Medicaid to cover long-term birth control for low-income women. - Read full text

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Filed Law Introduced in House House Committee House passage Senate Committee Senate passage Governor's OK


Feb. 2: Bill to expand birth control for low-income Utah women on its way to final vote at the Capitol

Republican lawmaker’s bill to expand coverage of birth control to low-income women is moving quickly toward a final vote with broad, bipartisan support.

HB12 made its debut in the Senate on Friday, where a committee unanimously voted to send the bill to the Senate floor.

The bill would expand Medicaid coverage for very low income women to obtain long-acting birth control, such as an intrauterine device (IUD). Rep. Ray Ward, a Bountiful family physician sponsoring the bill, said it will lead to massive cost savings for the state if passed. Most states offer similar coverage.


Jan. 30: Utah House votes to expand birth control for low-income women despite concerns from Republican about ‘forced sterilization’

Utah would expand Medicaid to cover long-lasting birth control for low-income women under a bill the state House voted to approve Tuesday and sent to the Senate.

Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated House voted 53-21 in favor of the bill, which would cost the state about $800,000 a year. Supporters, including sponsor Rep. Ray Ward, a Bountiful Republican, say the expansion could pay for itself threefold within two to three years.

“In Utah, our estimate is that over the course of 5 years … that would be a reduction of about 2,000 abortions,” said Ward, a family physician.

All but seven states have expanded Medicaid to cover long-acting birth control for women. Analysts have found the expansion has cut abortion rates and other public assistance.

The House vote on the bill came after opposition from Republican Rep. Norm Thurston, of Provo, who said the bill was reminiscent of the U.S. history of forced sterilization. He suggested a more effective way of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies was through abstinence.

“The more disturbing part of this bill is it’s about the money,” Thurston said, before going into various side effects associated with a particular intrauterine device, Mirena. That prompted Democratic Rep. Angela Romero, of Salt Lake City, to rebut.

“As a woman who has used birth control, a woman who currently has an IUD, Mirena, I use it for health reasons,” Romero said. “I also wanted to point out that this is not forced sterilization. This is a decision women can make about their reproductive health.”


Jan. 25: Utah lawmakers move ahead with expanding birth control coverage for low-income women

By Luke Ramseth

A bill to extend family-planning services and birth control to about 11,000 low-income Utah women is gaining traction in the state Legislature.

Costs of the partial Medicaid expansion effort would be covered mostly by the federal government, under House Bill 12. And several Republican legislators on Wednesday said the measure would save taxpayers money longterm by preventing unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

HB12 cleared a House committee Wednesday, with just one member opposed: Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo. It now heads to the full House.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ray Ward, a Republican and family physician from Bountiful, is pitched as a strategy for thousands of women to gain control over when they have children, through access to costly long-acting birth control such as intrauterine devices, or IUDs. Women who pay out-of-pocket for such devices can spend as much as $1,200, putting the devices well out of reach for many impoverished Utahns.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, right, explains HB12 — which would expand Medicaid to extend birth control and family-planning services to low-income women — during the House Health and Human Services Standing Committee meeting on Utah’s Capitol Hill Wednesday.

With improved access to family-planning services, the thinking goes, women can choose to pursue school or work before starting families, which could help bring them out of poverty. Utah is one of seven states that have not expanded Medicaid to cover family planning.

“This service, I do believe — having seen it myself, and having seen the numbers — makes an economic improvement in the lives of women,” Ward said.

Thurston said he opposed the bill — at least for now — because of its appearance of expanding government, providing guaranteed services to a new population. He also said he’s “not convinced” that there aren’t already sufficient existing family-planning resources for women in need.

“I don’t intend to appear heartless,” Thurston said, “I just do sometimes.”

But Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan, said the measure would ideally translate to fewer unintended pregnancies, reducing financial stress for parents — and the numbers of children raised in less-than-ideal circumstances. That, in turn, could mean those parents would seek fewer social services “in the long run,” costing taxpayers less money, noted Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy.

The coverage expansion — which would require a Medicaid waiver from federal officials — would cover women who earn up to 95 percent of incomes at the poverty line, or about $11,500 in 2017 for a single woman.

Another bill provision would also allow medical providers to be reimbursed separately by Medicaid for implanting IUDs or other long-acting birth control devices shortly after a woman gives birth, while she is already in the hospital.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, right, explains HB12 — which would expand Medicaid to extend birth control and family-planning services to low-income women — during the House Health and Human Services Standing Committee meeting on Utah’s Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Ward noted 90 percent of the costs of the expansion would ultimately be covered by the feds, and future federal assistance would not be tied to the fate of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He estimated the state would cover about $800,000 annually.

HB12 initially called for a four-year pilot plan, but committee members on Wednesday amended the measure to put it in place longterm. By 2020, the federal government would be paying Utah more than $4.3 million for the expanded coverage, a fiscal analysis said.

Other states, Ward said, have seen big payoffs from similar family-planning expansion. Colorado, for example, saved nearly $70 million in state and federal money after a similar effort provided 36,000 low-income women with long-acting birth control, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.