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In choosing health-care services, Utahns are cost-unconscious because they lack a measure to compare the costs of services, a citizens committee reports.

To reduce spiraling health-care costs in Utah, a blue ribbon committee of businessmen and government representatives is collecting a comparative list of services to enable consumers to become cost-conscious.Verl Topham, president of Utah Power and chairman of the health committee, reported Thursday afternoon the initial results of more than a year's examination of Utah's health-care system.

The conclusion: Utah has significantly lower per-capita costs compared with other states - about 26 percent below the national average - and the quality and efficiency of care is very good. But considering Utah's relatively younger and healthier population, Utah's costs ought to be lower.

The solution: The private sector, as purchasers, must work with health-care providers to improve the economic discipline of medical services.

"The business community has competitive buying power," Topham told the Deseret News. "As a coalition of employers, we have the clout to choose the best benefit programs. If we give consumers a list of prices - a standard of care and costs - then decisions can be made before health services are required. When a person is ill, he or she is not in a good bargaining position. Services are chosen on an emergency basis."

Health care is a major concern and cost for employers. When a company can save costs, those savings are passed on to Utah consumers, Topham said. Employers should play a pivotal role in fostering economic discipline in Utah's health-care market.

The focus of the committee's study was Utah - not overhauling nation's health-care agenda. The goal is to reduce costs in Utah without relying on sweeping government intervention, such as a national health care program.

Using business consultants, the committee made recommendations to improve efficiency and simplify procedures so consumers do not need to make decisions "in the dark." Some efforts will require legislative action, said Topham.

Recommendations include:

- Develop a universal claim form to be used by all insurers.

- Create incentives for improved physician participation in Medicaid.

- Develop a "conflict in interest" law limiting practitioners' ability to profit from self-referral.

"This would encourage private practitioners to purchase new, high-tech equipment only when a need exists," said Topham. "We need to get a handle on using high-tech equipment more efficiently, avoiding duplication. Antitrust laws may need to be modified to encourage cooperation in some cases."

- Reform small group insurance markets to improve access to affordable health insurance for small businesses.

"Currently, 52 percent of medical-care costs are spent on 5 percent of the population. This committee will be a catalyst to create public forums for debate on what Utahns want from their health-care system and aligning expectations with available resources. Difficult choices need to be made so Utah will not follow the national trend of double-digit inflation in health-care costs," said Topham.