Utah Legislative Wrap-up: COVID, Collaboration, and Compromise

By Darlene Petersen, MD and Maryann Martindale, UAFP Executive Director

This year’s session was very different from previous years. With COVID still in full swing and very few people vaccinated, the legislature opted for a hybrid version of the session. Committees that were typically held in small rooms were moved to larger spaces, all committees were given video access (most previously were audio only), and participants were encouraged to participate remotely. Because of the larger space, people were allowed to attend committees. Masks were required at all times and chairs were spaced far apart.

We made the determination that it was best for us to participate remotely and it ended up being a great decision. Thanks to the hard work of the capitol tech staff, things ran very efficiently with very few hiccups.

Compromise was definitely the theme of this year’s session.

There were several bills that we could not support, but one of the benefits of being so involved with the process is understanding when the tide is moving despite our opposition, and working hard to negotiate compromises to bills we would otherwise oppose outright.

SB28, Physician Assistant Act, by Senator Bramble, was our biggest fight and definitely took the most political will to reach a conclusion that we could live with. As we’ve seen over the past few years, scope creep has become a very real issue in legislatures across the country. Just a few years ago, the Nurse Practitioners were successful in gaining significant practice independence. This year, it was the Physician Assistant’s turn.

Thanks to strong coordination with the Utah Medical Association, we were able to negotiate several key elements of the bill: requiring longer practice time before independence, greater experience before specialty practice, and more equitable oversight on the governing board.

While we would have loved to have simply defeated the bill, the writing was on the wall and we knew our best solution would be to attack the elements that posed the greatest risk to patient health and safety. 

Another area that we successfully negotiated was regarding health mandates. Several bills targeted the ability of employers, education, and government to mandate things such as masks and vaccines. While we are not supportive of mandates, writ large, we felt it was critical to ensure that health entities–medical schools, hospitals, clinics, etc.—had the legal ability to institute such mandates when necessary for the protection of our doctors and other front-line workers. We are happy to say we were successful in getting exemptions for our entitles in every single bill related to mandates.

As with any session, we have some wins and we also have some losses. Two of our strongly supported bills were unsuccessful this session.

HB117, Vaccine Reporting Requirements, by family physician and Representative Ray Ward, would have required a vaccine provider to register with the Utah Statewide Immunization Information System (USIIS) and report vaccination information. The outcome would have been a single place for all vaccine records, relieving the burden of parents and those little yellow cards, changing physicians keeping up with vaccines, and the lack of reporting by pharmacies. Unfortunately, it was caught up in a tangential anti-vaccine narrative that derailed the bill. A good idea that went down to bad information. Hopefully Rep. Ward will bring it back and we can work on education to help it pass.

Our other disappointment was HB194, Diabetes Prevention Program, by Representative Suzanne Harrison. This would have authorized Medicaid to enroll patients in a comprehensive diabetes education and prevention program. As we all know, diabetes can be an expensive, life-long battle – but with education, it can often be avoided or overcome. This bill will be back and we’ll be working throughout the year to educate legislators on the economic and health benefit of such a program on some of our most vulnerable patients.

We want to thank our Advocacy Committee for all their help reading bills, helping with talking points, and speaking/reaching out in support or opposition of our targeted bills. If you like policy and want to help shape the policy decisions of the UAFP, please consider joining the committee.

If you’d like to review our full, final bill tracker, it can be found online at utahafp.org/2021BillTracker