Health

By Sariah Villalon (Voices Policy Intern)


We live in a digital world where social media has become integral to our society. It has broadened our communication, allowing us to connect and share information with anyone around the world. It has helped bring awareness to many issues and achievements within our society. But let's face it, unintended risks and consequences come with every innovation. One of them is its effect on our mental health, especially our young people's mental health.

Over the years, there has been an increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide among the youth, especially among girls. Social media may influence these mental health problems through social comparison, cyberbullying, and exposure to other toxic content (Nesi, 2020). 

Governor Spencer Cox recently addressed the relationship between social media on the mental health of our youth and how we could improve the mental health of our youth in Utah. Some of his recommendations are the following:

  • Hold social media companies accountable by providing tools for parents to safeguard their children,
  • Implement a cell phone-free environment in schools to reduce distraction for students.
  • Encourage parents to set an example for their children by spending quality social time with one another without social media use.
  • Educate their children on what is appropriate to say on these platforms.
  • Monitor their children's social media use by using different tools.
  • Have an honest conversation about social media

There are multiple good points that the governor pointed out. We agree that social media companies need to be held accountable for the algorithm and design of their apps that provide a toxic environment for their users. A couple of legislative efforts have been created to hold social media responsible. But is it enough?

We do not see so much urgency from these big techs. Even if they get fined, they could pay everything off quickly. It also puts too much burden on the parents to monitor and safeguard their children. We also have to be honest that we cannot blame everything on these companies. So, what can we do?

We need to hold these social media companies responsible by making them contribute to funding social media education for the youth. Organizations such as Digital Respons-Ability train parents, students, and educators on digital citizenship.

We cannot escape the digital world, and it will only progress from here on. We need to teach our youth how to use the technology and social media they have properly. Removing phones during school time will not solve our problems. By educating the youth, they can be better equipped to make informed decisions for their lives and improve their learning.

Another is research on the effect of social media on youth mental health. As we know, mental health is multi-faceted. We cannot just say that one factor causes mental health problems. We need more longitudinal studies on its effects to counter better or mitigate its adverse effects.

More importantly, let's talk more openly about our mental health. Let us educate ourselves and share our experiences with our children so they can also be aware of their well-being. Give them the resources to improve or manage their mental health. When children are more knowledgeable, it can increase their chances of knowing when and where to get the help they might need. 

Learn more on how we can help through this video. You can also download this infographic on Youth Mental Health & Digital Media for more information. 

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Families living with health insurance, and without: New storybook highlights why all Utah children need health insurance

Throughout the pandemic, health insurance has been a critical lifeline for Utah families to stay healthy and avoid medical debt. Yet many Utah children and parents are still unable to access any form of health insurance; they are denied coverage due to their immigration status. A new digital storybook, released by Voices for Utah Children, highlights families’ real-life experiences with health insurance and medical care. The stories reveal how having health insurance- or not having it- can alter a child’s life course.

The digital book is a collection of accounts shared by children, parents and caregivers across Utah. To protect the privacy and sensitive material shared, names were changed. The book includes accounts of children growing up without health insurance; the short and long-term positive impact of CHIP and Medicaid for children; immigrants and asylees finding the care they need; and children being denied care due to immigration status, while their siblings born in the United States can access care.

The storybook humanizes a problem that is often ignored: today in Utah, thousands of Utah children are still shut out of health coverage. As one DACA- recipient recounts in the book, growing up her families was “Too scared of the cost to go to the ER.”

However, there are glimpses of hope on the horizon. In the 2022 General Session, the Utah Legislature considered a bill that would allow all income-eligible children to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP, regardless of their background or immigration status. The bill, sponsored by Senator Luz Escamilla and Representative Mike Schultz, passed the Senate with broad support, but ran out of time in the House.

The book lifts up the stories behind the 2022 legislation. Previous reports from Voices for Utah Children have estimated the significant state savings if all children have coverage. The digital storybook shows the emotional, physical and financial costs families pay when their children are denied health insurance, and the life-changing benefits when families are able to get coverage.

Download Storybook Today!

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This Session, one of Voices for Utah Children’s top priority bills received very little public attention despite its behind-the-scenes activity. Below we will unpack what happened, lessons we learned, and what we believe the path forward should be so we can reach 100% Kids Coverage in Utah.

First a little background, during the 2021 Legislative Session, we were thrilled to see many statements in support of children’s health insurance coverage. Speaker Wilson highlighted children’s coverage and Utah’s high rate of uninsured kids during his opening Session remarks and supported funding for CHIP outreach. On the Senate side, Senator Escamilla championed a bill to Cover All Kids, which former House Leader, Representative Gibson, sponsored on the House side. While the bill did not make it through in the final days of the Session, it seemed well-positioned to pass in 2022.

Onto 2022…

This year Senator Luz Escamilla ran Senate Bill 185. Like her bill last year, SB 185 ensured all Utah children could get covered and stay covered by allowing income -eligible Utah children access to Medicaid and CHIP, regardless of immigration status. In addition, SB 185 restored funding for continuous eligibility for Medicaid children. Senator Escamilla skillfully navigated SB 185, with approval from the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee and broad support on the Senate floor. On the House side, Majority Leader, Representative Mike Schultz, stepped up as the House Sponsor to usher the bill across the finish line. But unfortunately, the bill was never brought to the full floor for a vote in the House.

So what happened this year?

Although SB 185 made it out of the Senate with little objections or pushback, it ran into obstacles in the House. The bill arrived in the House without enough time for a committee hearing. While it could have gone through without one, members of the House did not have the full time to discuss and familiarize themselves with the bill and work through question or concerns.  Although the bill never came to the floor for a full vote, it did have strong bipartisan support. Cover All Kids got even closer this year, but still fell short.

Going forward, we must discuss any questions or concerns directly. We invite lawmakers to join us in having honest conversations about the children we are leaving behind in our state, the children we are deciding not to cover. All children growing up in Utah need health insurance to thrive, regardless of their immigration status. To deny some children access to health care is unconscionable.

It is time we amplify the many voices, the stories, the statewide energy and support for Covering All Kids.  Lawmakers are ready; Utahns are ready. It’s time we act to Cover All Kids.

Learn more about the stories and join our campaign at https://www.100percentkids.health/take-action

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Utah has 82,000 uninsured children, according to the most recent Census data, which means an estimated 8.3% of children in Utah do not have health insurance. Utah currently ranks 46th in the nation for insured children.

When it comes to addressing this problem, too often public debate focuses on the cost to taxpayers of insuring Utah’s 82,000 uninsured children. But what about the cost of not insuring children?  Are there ways in which Utah taxpayers are already paying a price for allowing such a high number of uninsured children in our state?

In our new report, we address this question, building on findings from previous research. We explore two key ways in which Utah taxpayers are paying millions of dollars in costs annually for uninsured children:

1)  Uncompensated care for Utah’s 82,000 uninsured children may be costing state and local governments in Utah about $8.8 million annually.

2)  Covering all of Utah’s uninsured children would likely result in higher educational attainment levels, potentially adding nearly $10 million to Utah's personal income annually and generating over $800,000 in new tax revenue each year.

In sum, our report finds that Utah may be losing out on at least $9.6 million every year because of our high child uninsured rate.
 
We hope state leaders and policymakers will consider these findings as they review proposals to help improve Utah’s child uninsured rate. We can, as a state, remove barriers to Medicaid and CHIP.  We can adopt policies to help the thousands of Utah children unable to access health insurance.
 
These state proposals have costs, but the status quo is costing us even more. Our failure to act is undermining our state’s economy and holding back 82,000 children from achieving their full potential. As a state, we can no longer ignore the costs when thousands of children are uninsured and the profound savings when all children have coverage.
 

VIEW | DOWNLOAD Report

 

report graphic 1

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We appreciate the many legislators that supported bills affecting children. In summary, it WAS a good year for kids, but we still have plenty to do and we look forward to working together to #investinutahkids!

Early Childhood

Early childhood care and education had several key wins. The legislature approved:

  •  $7m in new funding for Optional Enhanced Kindergarten (which many districts use, with other funding sources, to offer full-day kindergarten)

  • $3m in new funding for School Readiness grants (to support high-quality preschool programs)

  • $5m in newly restored funding for preK-3 teacher professional development.

  • In addition, new legislation directed expansion in eligibility for working families to receive state childcare support, and several bills aimed to create efficiencies and financial stability for the childcare providers these working families rely on. 

Juvenile Justice

In the area of Juvenile Justice, legislators approved several bills that continue the state’s effort to refine ongoing efforts to reform and improve the juvenile justice system, which included:

  • A bold bill outlining and clarifying the Miranda rights of youth who are interrogated by police (ensuring that either parents or attorneys are present for such questioning.

  • An innovative pilot program to offer youth in secure care access to college courses through Dixie State University.

  • Finally, school-based discipline and the role of School Resource Officers (SROs) received some attention, with legislators giving a moratorium on criminal enforcement of state truancy laws during the remaining months of the pandemic and providing additional direction with regard to SRO training in public schools. 

Health

We were thrilled to see our Legislature take significant steps to prioritize children’s health coverage this Session and reduce Utah’s too-high number of uninsured children.

  • House Bill 262 (Representative Welton) provides ongoing funding for CHIP/Medicaid outreach so that more families can connect with affordable health insurance options for their kids. In addition, Senate Bill 158 would have removed barriers to health insurance, so all Utah children could get covered and keep their coverage.

  • In addition to children’s coverage, we saw important steps forward for children’s access to mental health this legislative Session including HB 337, sponsored by Representative Eliason, which will allow more early childhood providers to receive valuable training in infant mental health and also strengthen statewide systems to respond to the mental health needs of young children.

  • The legislature also made changes to ensure that funding for Utah’s maternal mental health program and awareness campaign were made permanent; thanks to Representative Dailey-Provost for championing this change for families.

  • Finally, the legislature also passed a bill that will make it easier for kids to access preventive dental health care. Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler, allows dental hygienists to bill Medicaid, which will help promote greater access to dental care in school-based and childcare settings. 

Cover All Kids Campaign Update

Senate Bill 158 passed the Senate with broad support, but unfortunately it was not funded. We look forward to continuing to support the bill sponsor, Senator Luz Escamilla, and floor sponsor, Representative Francis Gibson, to get this important bill across the finish line next year.

Continuous Medicaid Eligibility Update

Unfortunately, the Legislature did not restore state funding for continuous eligibility for children on Medicaid ages 0-5. Continuous eligibility was funded in the 2020 General Session but eliminated as part of budgetary cuts over the summer. Continuous eligibility guarantees children will have a year of stable Medicaid coverage, as they already have with CHIP. The good news is that thanks to temporary federal requirements, all children currently have this option. However, when the federal public health emergency ends, this option will end too, which could lead to significant loss and disruptions in children’s coverage if state funding is not restored. This past year has shown us just how vital it is that all children and families across Utah have access to health care and coverage. Stable, affordable health coverage for all Utahns will be critical to our state’s ability to rebound and recover.

Other Legislative Priorities 

During this past legislative session, we were happy to support a number of bills that are “good for kids” outside of our main policy priorities including the following bills that include policies that we will continue to work on this upcoming year!

  • We supported and are glad to continue working with the International Rescue Committee on supporting our immigrant and refugee families through HCR 22: Concurrent Resolution Celebrating the Contributions of Multilingual and Multicultural Families to Utah Schools. 
  • HB 338: School District Voter Eligibility Amendments would have created a pathway for school districts to choose whether students age 16-17 can vote in their local elections. It was led by a young person, Dhati Oomen, but unfortunately did not pass. We will continue to further advocate for greater youth civic engagement through this bill and beyond.

  • Lastly, we supported and advocated for SB 214: Official Language Amendments as a positive first step to ensure we have greater language inclusion in our state. While we recognize that this is not a full repeal of the 2000 “English-only” law, this bill does remove funding restrictions and “official communications that exist” while keeping English as the official language in place.  We will continue to work on ensuring this law is repealed completely in the coming year.

Tax and Budget

Tax cuts were a big item of discussion, and there were three tax cuts passed:

  • There was an $18 million Social Security Income Tax Credit

  • $24 million Military Retirement Income Tax Credit

  • $55 million Tax Cut tied to the personal exemption related to the dependent tax credit.  

Voices opposed these three items as they were primarily a benefit to the top 40% of taxpayers and excluded the lowest-income 40% almost entirely.  

We were also advocating for a $7 million Earned Income Tax Credit equal to 10% of the federal EITC targeted to Utahns in intergenerational poverty. This was passed in December 2019 as part of the tax restructuring law that was repealed in the 2020 Session. Lastly, there were two bills to lower the State Income Tax Rate, which did not pass. We were opposed to both bills for a number of reasons.  The cuts would have led to a more regressive tax structure and depriving us of much needed future revenues.

We have many unfunded needs and it is our opinion that we should not cut taxes any further until we address those needs and provide the required funds.

>> Check out our Facebook page for FB Live updates of each policy area. 

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