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Participants at Thursday's public hearing on Medicaid and the Utah Medical Assistance Program could almost convince themselves they'd stepped into a session of the United Nations.

Dozens of recent refugees to Utah (hailing from the Sudan, Vietnam, Iraq, Bosnia and a host of other nations) petitioned the Medical Care Advisory Committee for inclusion of language-interpretive services in next year's Medicaid budget increase request list."Imagine being ill in a foreign land and not being able to explain to a doctor how you're feeling," said Dr. Lawrence Galli, a North Carolina physician and refugee health services advocate.

"It's hard enough sometimes to effectively communicate with an English-speaking patient, but this communication barrier is multiplied tenfold with someone new to this country. Interpreters are vital."

Rod Betit, a committee member and executive director of the Utah Department of Health, told the refugees they wouldn't have to wait a year and allocated current department funds for interpretive services - sparking cheers from the crowd.

MCAC, a panel that makes recommendations to the Legislature and the state health department, called the hearing to enlist recommendations from health care providers and Medicaid recipients before drafting a final budget proposal.

Suggestions from Thursday's hearing will likely be used to form a preliminary list of flexible budget priorities to be added to six non-negotiable "building blocks." Established mandates include coverage of Medicaid service inflation costs, utilization and caseload costs for people entitled to Medicaid and expansion of the program that uses Medicaid funds to pay for Medicare premiums so the federal program picks up primary medical cost.

Committee members admit theirs is an overwhelming task. Health care assistance is one of the state's largest budget items, second only to education. Currently, one of every eight Utahns is covered by Medicaid.

In addition to interpretive services requests, health-care providers also asked Thursday for Medicaid coverage of outpatient physical and occupational therapy, expansion of transplant services, and inclusion of psychiatric drugs in the Utah Medical Assistance Program.

Medical transportation providers also called for upgraded Medicaid funding to offset expenses of advanced life-support services.

"We'd like to see at least partial recovery of costly services, such as cardiac care given to Medicaid patients, available to transportation providers," said Carol Duncan, a spokeswoman with the Roy City Fire Department.