This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For the third year in a row, the Salt Lake County Council is writing a letter to legislative leaders, asking them to support Gov. Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah proposal.
But this year, it's also explaining why the options laid out by the Legislature's Health System Reform Task Force are insufficient to address the needs of two large segments of the county's uninsured population people in jail and people with behavioral health issues.
The task force's options "offer minimal help to individuals with a behavioral health condition," said the letter, unanimously approved by the Republican-majority County Council.
"Counties hold statutory authority to deliver behavioral health services in Utah. Salt Lake County takes this responsibility seriously," the council added.
Of the roughly 89,000 county residents needing insurance coverage, about a third have a criminal history. That background frequently disqualifies them from being eligible for private health insurance coverage, the letter said, an impediment minimized by Herbert's plan, which is an alternative proposal to the large-scale Medicaid expansion launched by the Obama administration.
County officials also believe the task force's options will be more expensive than projected because its members underestimated how many people living in poverty have criminal or behavioral problems.
"These options proposed to cover between 12 [and] 20 percent of the population" living below the federal poverty level, including "superutilizers" in the jail and behavioral treatment, the letter said. "This number is much closer to 35 percent of the population" that's below the poverty level.
Janida Emerson, who recently moved to the council from the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, said the task force's more restrictive option would restrict coverage to only 8,400 individuals. The more expansive option still covers just 12,700.
While sending yet another letter to the heads of the Utah House and Senate may "seem like an exercise in futility," said county Division of Behavioral Health Director Tim Whalen, he still harbors hopes of swaying lawmakers to go with health care coverage plans that take care of more people in need.
"Our efforts have not gone unnoticed. The behavioral health issue has kept this [overall coverage] issue alive," he said. "A letter of support in the first week of the session makes a lot of sense."
Adam Trupp, chief executive of the Utah Association of Counties, applauded Salt Lake's show of support for Herbert's Healthy Utah plan.
His association similarly "took a position in support of what the governor is setting out to do," Trupp said. "The cost is more sensible. The benefits are better."