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Now is the time to reform the U.S. health care system

Why is the United States the only industrialized country that finds it acceptable for its citizens to become impoverished because they are unlucky enough to get sick?
Why is the United States the only industrialized country that finds it acceptable for its citizens to become impoverished because they are unlucky enough to get sick?
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Fixing the nation’s health care crisis may be the most important thing the new Republican-controlled federal government can do.

Health care impacts every person in the country, and the industry is taking more and more of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare notes that the U.S. health care system spent $3.2 trillion in 2015, or almost $10,000 for every person. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate that health care made up 17.8 percent of the country’s GDP in 2015.

In Utah, good news and bad news exist with regard to health care. The good news is that, overall, Utahns enjoy excellent health care at one of the lowest prices in the country. Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, has noted that health insurance premiums and costs of care are lower in Utah than in other parts of the country. “That creates a significant competitive advantage for companies located in Utah. …”

The bad news is that, both for businesses and individuals, health insurance costs are high and rising, adding over 20 percent to a business’s cost of salaries, bonuses and commissions. Rich McKeown, CEO of Leavitt Partners, said in a Utah Business article that rising health care costs are a major reason employers have not been able to increase wages for the last decade.

In addition, insurance premiums are going up, some as much as 30 percent, with fewer insurance options, for 2017. For about half the counties in Utah, only once choice exists on the insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act. This isn’t healthy or sustainable. And under high deductible insurance plans, we are seeing a new class of medical indigents, in addition to the uninsured.

Dr. Brian Shiozawa, a Utah state senator, recently wrote in an opinion article that, “Utah, like the rest of the country, faces a crisis in health care. We currently have over 13 percent uninsured in Utah.”

Why is the United States the only industrialized country that finds it acceptable for its citizens to become impoverished because they are unlucky enough to get sick?

Soon we will have a new Republican administration and Congress in Washington, D.C. For years, Republicans have said they wanted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and voters apparently agreed with them.

Now they have their chance. One observer said it will be a little like the dog that caught the bus. “What do we do now?” No one really knows what the new administration will do.

Certainly, reforming health care will be difficult. No easy solutions exist that will keep everyone happy. No one likes the rising premiums, and many people don’t like the individual mandate requiring everyone to purchase health insurance. But they do like features like forbidding insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and allowing young people to stay on parents’ insurance until they’re 26.

The problem is that the popular features of Obamacare cost extra money, and were to be financed by the individual mandate and other less popular provisions.

Some Republicans are suggesting that Congress quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act, but make the repeal effective in two years, giving Congress and the administration time to hammer out a new approach. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” reform plan may provide a starting point.

It is possible that rather than attempt to create a comprehensive nationwide health care program, the Republicans will deregulate and decentralize, sending block grants to states to devise their own programs.

That would place more responsibility on Utah’s governor and Legislature. Given Utah’s relatively healthy populace, and willingness of leaders to collaborate and seek good solutions, that might be a good thing for Utah.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.