Ms. Seema Verma, Administrator of The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), was in Utah on Monday, November 13th. Her visit coincided with CMS’s announcement that it had approved Utah’s unique waiver request to extend Medicaid to about 5,000 people who are homeless and/or addicts.
Over the past couple of years the Legislature has reduced some felony drug-related crimes to misdemeanors because of pressure on prisons and jails. However, without the resources to treat them, many addicts were arrested and went right out the back door of the jail because of overcrowding.
Meanwhile, in the Pioneer Park and Rio Grande area, criminal behavior and nuisances like sex acts, public defecation, urination and camping out in the median strip and landscaped areas along 500 West escalated to an intolerable level. After some murders and other violence, Speaker Greg Hughes and other state and local leaders said it was time to take the area back and formed Operation Rio Grande.
Operation Rio Grande’s first objective is to restore order and assure public safety among the homeless population and for the properties and businesses especially around Pioneer Park and Rio Grande Avenue.
The second objective is to assess the addicted and criminal individuals who frequent the area to see whether they should be prosecuted or entered into therapy. The stumbling block, however, was that there are not enough resources to treat the mentally ill and those needing substance abuse therapy.
Able-bodied adults earning less than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) have not been eligible for Medicaid until the Affordable Care Act allowed states to expand Medicaid to cover them. Rep. Jim Dunnigan (R-Taylorsville) passed a bill that instructed the State to apply for a waiver from CMS to extend Medicaid to homeless persons and non-functional drug addicts.
Under Ms. Verma, CMS approved the Dunnigan waiver. And Medicaid will not only cover mental health services, but in a wonderful development, will allow recipients to receive substance abuse therapy and recovery as a covered benefit. Public and private providers like Odyssey House will consequently be adding new beds and treatment resources to handle the increased enrollment of those wishing to beat their addiction and return to productive lives.
It is estimated that the Dunnigan waiver will bring about $100 million of federal and state dollars annually to treat these problems. We should proudly note that hospitals will contribute 45% of the state’s share.
This is only one example of how our hospitals address some of the most critical and personal issues facing Utahns. Sometimes the Legislature and others only see us as big businesses. But hospital employees and affiliated professionals render care one by one to Utahns with a whole lot of personal concern and empathy, not to mention the incredible financial contributions hospitals make to our state.
As 2017 comes to a close, I am grateful for the work that our members do to make Utah a great place to live, work and grow. I look forward to continuing our momentum in 2018.