PUSH Coalition in Force on Arsenal Hill

Brook Carlisle, ACS CAN Utah Govt Relations Director
Brook Carlisle, ACS CAN Utah Government Relations Director

They were highly organized and they were out in force on a day when state appropriations and specific bills involving healthcare were being discussed by Utah’s legislature.

The entire effort, by elected officials, by citizen advocates, by state health workers and physicians practicing in Utah was to determine how to provide the best healthcare for the Utahns who need it the most.

A coalition of more than sixty citizen advocates called PUSH (Providing Utahns Smarter Healthcare) representing the Cancer Action Network of the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Stroke Association, and the Utah Affiliate of Susan G. Komen were attempting to secure personal contact with their legislators as constituents, life-threatening illness survivors, and as caregivers.

[pullquote][There has been] more than $300 million of ‘opportunity cost’ that Utahns have already paid for extended Medicaid coverage. The delays that the legislature creates are costly. – Dr. David Patton, Executive Director – Utah Department of Health[/pullquote]Their goal for the day? To get a head-count on which of their legislators would be endorsing Governor Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan as the way that more than 95,000 Utahns may qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage who currently do not have benefits.

Stuck in the so-called “coverage gap,” these residents are too poor to pay for the coverage they require and who do not qualify for assistance under any other means. PUSH was on Arsenal Hill to be their advocates.

Mark Watterson, the Utah Director of Government Relations for the American Heart Association counted Utah’s “culture of hard-working and compassionate citizens” as the reason why “Healthy Utah… finds the right balance between providing affordable coverage for those in need, while encouraging them to take responsibility for their own health.”

“We especially want the head-count in the House,” said Jen Tischler, the Grassroots Relationship Manager of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network. She and other organizers spent most of the morning coaching their citizen resources on how to effectively contact their elected officials while the legislature is in session.

“Requests made on the slips available from House staff allow you to let your representative know that you’re here to see them,” said Tischler, “We would like you to mention that you are a survivor, a caregiver or most importantly, a constituent who wants them to know about your reasons for supporting the Healthy Utah plan. Ask them if they support the Governor’s Healthy Utah plan.”

Brook Carlisle, the Cancer Action Network’s Government Relations Manager spoke about the day’s effort and stated that “Having access to comprehensive health care coverage is critical in the fight against cancer. Uninsured individuals are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage cancers, which are more difficult and costly to treat, and more likely to lead to death.”

During the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee meeting that was going on concurrently, Representative Ed Redd (Republican – North Logan), a physician in Logan, indicated that he had several patients who had died because they could not access the care he had referred them to obtain.

“The American Lung Association in Utah strongly supports Governor Herbert’s plan to open Medicaid coverage to more Utahns and broaden the fight against lung disease, a disease which kills more than 1,800 people in Utah each year,” said Jamie Riccobono, the ALA Utah Executive Director, “The Governor’s proposal has the potential to eliminate barriers for the proper diagnosis, treatment and care of those who suffer from lung related illness such as lung cancer, asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.” Riccobono sees Utah’s public health effort for at-risk populations as a “safety net” that needs mending because many involved fall into the “coverage gap,” not allowing them to obtain the treatment resources they require.

Dr. David Patton, the Executive Director of Utah’s Department of Health, said that the state has already lost the available funds from the federal government for 2014. “That amounts to more than $300 million of ‘opportunity cost’ that Utahns have already paid for extended Medicaid coverage. The delays that the legislature creates are costly.”

Patton was among all of the medical operatives on Arsenal Hill working to see if his long-standing efforts to obtain the waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was going to meet with any success, given efforts by some Utah lawmakers to obstruct the Healthy Utah effort. Several see the Healthy Utah plan as too costly once the federal dollars are unavailable in future years.

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