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Leavitt touts his health-care plan

He urges system based on competition, value

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Mike Leavitt, health and human services secretary, talks about his health-care plan during a Salt Lake visit Friday.

Mike Leavitt, health and human services secretary, talks about his health-care plan during a Salt Lake visit Friday.

Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News

Imagine visiting a doctor without having to fill out information on a clipboard. Imagine being able to shop for quality in health care like you'd shop for the best cell phone plan.

Imagine being able to afford it.

Mike Leavitt, U.S. secretary of health and human services and former governor of Utah, stumped Friday for a plan he says will lead to the creation of a health-care system that is based on competition and value and accessible to all.

The plan is controversial. And there are competing proposals floating about, some from 2008 presidential candidates.

"There are two distinctly different approaches being proposed to solve this problem," Leavitt said. "One approach is for the federal government to insure everybody: one plan for everyone, run out of Washington. I believe the result of such a program is predictable: we'd have less choice, we'd have longer waits, we'd have lower satisfaction from the people who are served, and we'd clearly have higher taxes.

"The alternative is not only better, in my own judgment it's substantially more likely to be accepted by the people of this country, who really don't like the idea of the federal government running their health-care system. To solve the problems of the uninsured, we need a partnership: a partnership between government and the private sector, each doing what it does best."

The administration's Value-Driven Health Care proposal has four pillars:

Electronic health records, accessed through computer systems that are compatible so that information can be appropriately shared.

Industry standards and quality measures so consumers have the information they need to find the best care.

Comparable prices, a means of assuring that cost information is available, understandable and comparable.

Proper incentives, which increase quality and keep costs down. Transparent quality and price information makes those incentives possible, Leavitt said.

"We are surrounded by economic systems that make costs lower," Leavitt said, pointing to telephone, banking and airline systems. "In each of these systems, there is aggressive competition for our business. In each, the entrants have adopted common standards to optimize value to customers."

In the coming months, Leavitt said he will crisscross the country talking about the plan. On Friday, companies and organizations represent- ing more than 700,000 Utah workers signed statements of support for the initiative. Employers signing on included Intermountain Healthcare, Zions Bancorp., Rocky Mountain Power and Utah Manufacturers Association.

By April, Leavitt said he hopes 60 percent of employers will "have committed to some extent" to the adoption of the initiative.

"Changing health care policy is not easy," Leavitt said. "People say there's not enough political will in the world to change health care. I'd like to suggest that it may be the opposite of that: that maybe there's too much will, that every time a proposition on health care comes up, everybody unholsters their political will and shoots at each other. I would suggest that the only force that's strong enough to change the course of health care is a market-based system."

Dr. Sarah Goodlin, a geriatrician and palliative care physician based in Salt Lake City, said she was "fine" with the proposals presented Friday. But, she said, "I think it misses the vast needs of individuals in knowing how to negotiate the health-care system. I think we need to help people know what they need, how to manage their own health care and the health care of their ill, disabled and frail family members."

However, Scott Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Zions Bank, applauded the initiative.

"When you look at the number of citizens who are not insured, and you look at the charity care costs and the bad debt expenses that are carried by hospitals and doctors throughout our state, those costs are covered by the people who have insurance," Anderson said. "So if we can, by putting in place a basic health-care (plan), I think (Leavitt) said we should see a 3 percent decrease immediately in health-care costs. That will benefit us and make health care more affordable to us as a company and allow us to be more competitive."

Robin Riggs, vice president and general counsel for the Salt Lake Chamber, said the chamber was thrilled with the proposal.

"We couldn't be happier," Riggs said. "This is exactly the kind of initiative the private sector, especially employers who provide health care, have needed for a long time. We have all these disparate parts (in the health care sector) that don't seem to work very well together, and if we can get these very disparate parts talking to each other and working cooperatively with one another, I think we can bring down costs and improve quality and increase access."

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com