"Prevention" will be the buzzword at the Capitol during January and Febru-ary when law-makers debate bills aimed at reducing injuries and illnesses among Utah's youths.
If bills written by the Utah Department of Health pass legislative scrutiny, Utah will have a stronger vehicle-occupant restraint law and a new vaccination statute.Utah law now requires that children, ages 5 and younger, must be restrained when riding in an automobile.
"Yet, according to 1989 department surveys, only about a third of children under age 5 are adequately restrained," said Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, health department executive director. "Obviously, if they are not restrained they are more likely to get hurt or killed in auto accidents."
Health department officials want children, ages 10 and younger, to be restrained - regardless of where they're sitting in the vehicle or who's driving it.
"The problem with the current law is that children only have to be restrained if they are traveling with a parent or legal guardian. So if the neighbor takes them, the neighbor doesn't have to restrain them," Dandoy said. "That seems to me inappropriate. If children need to be restrained, they need to be restrained regardless of who is driving the car."
To curb preventable diseases, Sen. Winn L. Richards, D-Ogden, is sponsoring a second bill written by the UDOH.
If it becomes law, university and college-bound students will have to show proof of immunization.
"Half of all institutions of higher education in the United States already have this requirement, even if it's not state law," Dandoy said. "Utah is a little behind in this area."
The health department's bill, which comes in the wake of a major measles outbreak in Utah, doesn't specify against which diseases students must be immunized.
That, Dandoy said, would be done through rule-making so the law would be current with which diseases are a problem. "But the ones that we are primarily concerned about are measles, mumps and Rubella (German measles)."
If passed, a third UDOH bill would be a boost to AIDS patients who don't have health insurance. It would authorize the health department to purchase it for them.
According to Dandoy, federal law permits a terminated employee to purchase an additional 18 months of insurance at the past employer's group rate.
"For those persons with AIDS who cannot afford to do that, we are suggesting that the health department be permitted to buy into their insurance program for them, purchasing 18 months' worth of coverage," Dandoy said. "If they don't have insurance, they'll go on the Medicaid program and we will end up paying all their medical expenses.
"We believe it would be cost-effective to use our funds to (instead) purchase insurance for them; it would save the state money in the long run."
As in previous years, lack of available state money will likely prevent the Legislature from funding the health department's full budget request.
"We obviously won't get the amount we requested," Dandoy said. "We will be doing better than we have done in some previous years, but we clearly will not be meeting all the needs that are there."
Dandoy anticipates funding increases for Medicaid, the medical examiner's office, injury control and environmental-health services.
Programs that likely won't receive sufficient funding are the new Early Intervention Program, which will provide assistance to families with handicapped children under age 2, and the Medical Assistance Program.
The state-funded program helps people who are not eligible for Medicaid and have no source of medical care.
Health bills on docket for 1990 Legislature:
- Stronger vehicle occupant restraint law
- New immunization statute
- Health Department purchase of insurance for AIDS patients
- Mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists
- Repaying education loans for physicians who commit to practice in rural areas
- Scholarships for medical students who commit to practice in rural areas upon graduation
- State data authority to which health-care providers and consumers can submit information on costs and charges
- Risk pool for uninsurable