By Stafford Newsome, Capital West News Service
Simple classroom theory did not suffice for 29 BYU public health students who hoped to help thousands of Utahns by lobbying lawmakers at the Capitol Wednesday, Feb. 11.
In an effort to gain firsthand experience for future professions in public health, students spearheaded efforts, in conjunction with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, to support Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan. The plan would seek to expand Medicaid coverage across the state.
Class members said they feel that thousands of Utahns live without the means to take care of themselves because of flaws in the current Medicaid system.
Knowing the plan is controversial among lawmakers, Zachary Hunter, a BYU public health major from Ohio, admitted that lobbying legislators is a nerve-racking experience.
However, Hunter affirmed that they were there to convince lawmakers “to extend Medicaid in order to extend coverage to a lot of people who fall in what we call a ‘coverage gap.'”
The coverage gap is “a gap of people who don’t meet Medicaid requirement because of how much they make but cannot afford insurance on their own,” Hunter said.
According to the Cancer Action Network, 32,000 Utah adults who are struggling to gain adequate health benefits fall in this coverage gap.
As senators and representatives convened their daily “floor time,” the 29 students took charge of 100 other volunteers. They packed the area in front of the House and Senate chambers’ doors and requested that lawmakers come out and speak to them personally.
Among the volunteers students led were doctors, parents and cancer survivors, all supporting Medicaid expansion.
The network’s grassroots manager for Utah, Jen Tischler, praised the BYU students for their willingness to get involved.
“Working with them is amazing, because I need volunteers that can lead the other volunteers,” Tischler said.
Michael Barnes, department chair of health science at BYU, said allowing students to advocate helps them attain a valuable skill before entering their career fields.
In public health “being able to articulate as constituents or as professionals to legislators about what kind of differences can be made is a really important priority,” Barnes said.
Like his students, Barnes supported the expansion. “If the state legislators can understand the value of (the Healthy Utah plan) it will help make a difference for thousands of Utahns,” he said.