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Health Care Costs, State Efforts

Utahns Want To Help Their Neighbors

Published On April 27, 2018

The first state on our Listening Tour was Utah — a red state that has passed a Medicaid expansion bill in addition to gathering enough signatures to secure a place on the ballot for a voter-approved initiative that would expand that coverage even further. The bipartisan interest in finding solutions to cover more people is one of the reasons Utah was on the top of our list.

While visiting the beehive state, the United States of Care (US of Care) team met with health care stakeholders, providers, policymakers, industry leaders, researchers, consumers, and patient advocates – including the advocates who were behind the signature gathering for the ballot initiative and the primary sponsor of the legislature’s expansion bill.

Key Takeaways:

  • Health care is too expensive for many Utahns
  • The issues, policies, and emotions involved are complicated, and working through them will be hard and take time
  • There is a willingness to work together to make it happen

The team at Utah Health Policy Project helped to lead a great and engaging discussion with the patient and consumer advocate community. Many of the individuals involved were part of the movement that gathered signatures and support for a ballot initiative that would expand Medicaid coverage to Utahns up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, paid for by a .015  percent increase in the statewide sales tax.

Our conversation ranged from the feedback the groups were getting from their fellow Utahns as they gathered signatures, to personal impacts of current and potential policy changes on those gathered around the table.

While there were many things we took away from the discussion, one theme stood out – it is complicated. Not only is the policy complicated but so is how individuals feel about their health care, government’s role in it, and how any change could impact them and their loved ones.

The desire to help one’s neighbors and to be compassionate through coverage expansion is real and true, but equally so was the fear that doing so could negatively impact people’s own ability to provide coverage to themselves and their families. As we move forward with our work at United States of Care, finding that balance will be critical to finding solutions that will be sustainable in the long term.

US of Care Board Chair Andy Slavitt was also invited to speak at a Health Care Affordability Boot Camp sponsored by Utah Health Policy Project, Health Insight, and Altarum.

The fact that such a thing even exists — and that dozens of advocates spent a day hunkered down to work on this critical issue — is further testament to the commitment to this shared vision of making health care more affordable.

We also had the chance to meet with leadership at the Utah Foundation, which conducts a priorities poll every four years and found, unsurprisingly, that healthcare is the #1 issue of concern for voters. The foundation is developing a Health Care Cost Series, diving into the issue of making care more affordable for Utahns.

In addition to meeting with the proponents of the ballot initiative, we also met with Republican Representative Jim Dunnigan, the chief sponsor of the legislature’s Medicaid expansion bill signed by the governor. The law would expand Medicaid to those at 100 percent of the federal poverty level and still requires federal approval.

In this meeting too, we found common ground: the cost of healthcare is too much for many families and individuals to bear alone, especially when it comes to the rising costs of prescription drugs. While none of us came away from the meeting with the solution to the challenge, we did come away with mutual respect and trust, which will be key to reaching sustainable change.

Our conversation with industry leaders was co-led by US of Care Founder’s Council member and former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt. Here we focused on the nitty-gritty of payment plans, reimbursement rates, and current trends in Utah health care systems.

This conversation dove into the weeds and discussed how health care is currently paid for and how outcomes are measured and evaluated, but one theme continued to resurface: Utahns are unsatisfied with the status quo, and change is inevitable.

The one area where there was agreement with all those we met with was that of solving the real problems facing people in affording their health care — to find a path that leads to a Utah and a nation where individuals and families do not have to live in fear of twisting an ankle or finding a lump where it should not be. This is a very solid rock to build on as we start this mission.

As we left Utah, one thing was abundantly clear — Americans are not waiting for Washington to solve the challenge of making health care more accessible and more affordable. They are taking matters into their own hands: urging state legislators to act, advocating for more affordable options, and pushing for policy changes on the ballot. People are using every tool they can to change the status quo, and we are excited to be helping where we can.