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Utah Legislature: 3 bills blueprint new Utah health plan

SALT LAKE CITY — Three bills that rough in the year-three phase of Utah's 10-year health care reform project were approved unanimously by a legislative committee Friday afternoon.

Two bills, HB25 and HB52, lay groundwork for simplifying how care is sold and paid for as well as further refines electronic standards so the system is speaking the same language as it moves away from paper to digital information sharing and record keeping.

HB294, which is this year's centerpiece reform legislation, expands the state's nascent Web-based health care information and insurance exchange by opening admission to businesses with more than 50 employees. It also provides necessary structural additions that will encourage a more open, more transparent and ultimately less expensive health care system of care in Utah.

It is in effect the schematic for shifting the way health care works from the common "take-it-or-leave-it" approach that nearly 70 percent of Utahns covered by private insurance plans now have through their workplaces. The proposal would move to a customized, competitive model that allows consumers to pick more suitable plans, carry coverage with them between jobs and sets options for employers who offer plans other than just outright dropping coverage or limiting it because they can't keep up with ballooning premium prices.

The bill is intentionally mandate-free, said sponsor Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, House speaker and co-chairman of the Legislature's Health Care Reform Committee. No one is forced by law to purchase or provide coverage, and working families, individuals and businesses who have dropped coverage are instead encouraged and given basic tools to become more engaged in securing their own health care.

The bill not only showcases Utah's effort to find its own unique answers to the national health care crisis, it is clear and convincing evidence to Congress, which is working on its own widely opposed solution, that states, not the federal government, are best equipped to regulate and tailor their own system and to promote the innovations that are specific to their needs, Clark said.

"We are showing we can do this if Washington will keep out of the way," he said.

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com