This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
At the close of this legislative season, let us pause to thank our representatives. With undaunted enthusiasm, they have toiled tirelessly to defeat any health-promoting measure. Unflinching before the threats of facts and reason, the Legislature suppressed many bills that would have improved our state's health.
Take House Bill 221, for example. This bill calls for parents to actually understand how vaccines work before refusing to vaccinate their children. A repeat of the 2014 measles outbreak was considered a more acceptable alternative to educating misinformed parents, and the Legislature radically amended the bill.
Less determined members, having allowed themselves to be corrupted by science, proposed a bill for comprehensive sex education. Given the 400 percent increase in gonorrhea transmission rates, the bill addresses an urgent need in our community. However, there is evidently a greater need to protect our children from accurate health information, as the Legislature voted down the bill. This act required our representatives to ignore the overwhelming evidence that comprehensive sex education is the best way to prevent teen pregnancy.
The Legislature paused in their apathy of sexual health last week when a bill declaring pornography to be a public health emergency passed. This sudden interest in public health may seem surprising, considering how consistently legislators have ignored more basic public health measures, such as vaccinations, contraceptives and education. But don't worry this bill doesn't actually accomplish anything. While it decries the pornography crisis, it's apparently not a big enough crisis to merit any funding or dedicated personnel.
Funding concerns continued to fuel the Medicaid expansion debate, culminating in the passage of House Bill 437 last week. This bill generously expands Medicaid coverage to the chronically homeless, mentally ill, and recently released prisoners, leaving only around 94,000 Utahns to continue putting off colonoscopies and skipping mammograms in favor of making ends meet. While more comprehensive Medicaid expansion bills have been proposed for years, they all shared the fatal flaw of providing too many people with health insurance most undesirable, if poor health outcomes are your ultimate goal.
However, the Legislature has not been entirely vigilant; several health-promoting bills have slipped through their defenses. Working mothers who breastfeed must now be provided with adequate facilities to pump and store breast milk, which will improve our infants' health. They've also initiated a set of bills to address heroin overdoses in Utah, which is an urgent public health emergency. I can't imagine how they let these slip by perhaps they were too preoccupied taking photos with football coaches to notice that these bills were introduced.
Legislators were more alert whenever our poor air quality was threatened. Just a few weeks ago, the Wasatch Front gasped under the worst inversion in 30 years; Intermountain Healthcare saw a 30 percent increase in hospital admissions. But the Legislature, dedicated as ever to optimizing the conditions for poor health, refused to entertain any bill that would improve air quality. In their zeal, they refused to publish comments on rules made by air quality advocacy groups and canceled hearings where those groups were in attendance. This demonstrates a deep level of dedication to perpetuating unhealthy living conditions.
The foremost goal of the Utah Department of Health is that "the people of Utah will be the healthiest in the country." Lest this goal become a reality, the Legislature has worked to defeat any measure that would result in better public health outcomes. If we remain on this path, we will continue to see outbreaks of preventable diseases, high numbers of uninsured patients, and all the diverse health effects of poor air quality.
And we will know whom to thank.
Sierra Debenham is a fourth year MD/MSPH student at the University of Utah School of Medicine.