SALT LAKE CITY -- Health care professionals want residents to contact their lawmakers and ask them to put money back into the state's Medicaid program.
With the state's projected revenue budget surplus reported at $294 million, $78 million more than was forecast in January, health care professionals and those who use Medicaid, in conjunction with Utah Health Policy Project, spoke at a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol.
Lawmakers were told earlier this year to slash budgets across the board by 7 percent because state officials believed the state would have a deficit. Tuesday's announcement of additional funds have health care advocates speaking out for the Medicaid program.
Health care advocates said they want lawmakers to restore money to such programs as Children's Health Insurance Program, Medical Interpreter Services, Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program, as well as Medicaid's preferred-drug list and payment reform.
Cara Dahlquist said if not for the Children's Health Insurance Program, she and her husband still would be paying on $2 million worth of medical bills accrued after their son was born with a congenital heart defect.
"CHIP helped us until we were able to get our son on private health insurance," Dahlquist said.
Angela Cooley, 44, of Sandy, pulled off her blonde wig and spoke about the trials of battling cervical cancer. The single mother of two was told in November she had three to 24 months to live.
"I wish the government could move more mountains for the women in this state," Cooley said.
Cooley said lawmakers can find money to make a highway safer, but find it difficult to fund programs that allow mothers and grandmothers to live longer and be with their families.
Dr. Raymond Ward, who runs a private medical practice in Bountiful, said there are ways to save taxpayer dollars without cutting Medicaid services. One of those ways includes a preferred-drug list for those with mental illnesses.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, is sponsoring Senate Bill 137, which is on the Senate calendar for consideration. Christensen, who was not at the news conference, said when he ran a bill several years ago to have a preferred-drug list, the medications for those with mental illnesses were removed.
Most insurance companies have preferred-drug lists that include prescriptions for those with mental illnesses, he said.
"The drug manufacturers are making tons of money, and they want a ton more," Christensen said.
If his bill is approved by both the House and Senate, the state could save millions of dollars over the next several years.
Those with Utah Health Policy Project also support SB 180, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, which if passed would begin reforming the state's Medicaid system.
Liljenquist said his bill, which is complex, would create a bundle pay system. Instead of having doctors get paid for each service they provide, they would receive payment per member per month.
If the program is run correctly, Liljenquist said, it could save the state $770 million over a seven-year period.
"The program is going to grow, and we don't have $770 million to put into it," he said. "We can't afford the growth. It will come out of somewhere, like education."
His bill also would create a "rainy day fund," where money allotted for Medicaid would be deposited and if not used, would be available for those years when funds are tight.