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Monday, December 11, 2006

Op-ed: Health-care panel met its goals

By Michael Waddoups
Utah State Senator, District 6

This past week* marked a milestone in Utah's health-care system. The Privately Owned Health Care Organization Task Force packed up and headed home.

The 14-member task force, which I co-chaired with Rep. David Clark, was formed two years ago to study issues relating to competition and business practices in Utah's health-care market.

Specifically, it was asked to assess whether or not Intermountain Healthcare, the state's largest provider of health care and commercial health insurance plans, uses its size and dominance to restrict competition.

Task force members found that the answer depends on one's perspective. We studied the issue extensively. We asked questions, demanded answers and took some important steps to ensure Utah's health-care system operates with fairness.

Undoubtedly, the question of competition is critical. It's essential to fostering a health-care system where quality improves, innovation is encouraged and prices are modified as a result of normal market forces. One expert hired to review the situation for the task force concluded that Utah's health-care system provides vigorous competition with good quality care at reasonable prices. Some disagreed. A number of organizations and individuals (including the Utah Medical Association, the Utah Ambulatory Surgery Center Association, competing insurers and hospital systems) provided testimony regarding errors and flaws with the consultant's result.

Probably more significant, we were presented with a petition signed by more than 3,000 members of Utah working families calling for more choice.

The task force's work did little to quell the disparate voices, but it did raise awareness of many important health issues, including
  • rising costs,

  • the uninsured,

  • competition,

  • tax advantages and

  • charity care.
Most important, the legislative oversight provided by the task force resulted in the implementation of several important, positive changes for Utah consumers — most notably:

  • Improved medical billing practices — IHC announced its commitment to refrain from using court proceedings whenever possible to collect unpaid medical bills and reducing interest rates on unpaid bills.

  • Expansion of health insurance networks — IHC announced it will offer a health plan that will allow any qualified physician or health-care facility to participate in the plan's network.

  • Elimination of an anti-competitive activity — the line between hospital and insurance inside IHC has been fuzzy, providing the organization an advantage. The task force compelled IHC to establish organizational systems that formally separated hospital and health insurance functions, especially in contract negotiations with competitors. However, predatory practices are still being alleged.
These important, long-term changes will ease the strain carried by many struggling to pay their medical bills. They'll also provide a measure of equity to the state's physicians and insurance companies.

I commend Intermountain Healthcare for its active cooperation. A number of medical providers, insurance companies and consumer advocates exhibited courage by articulating different viewpoints.

Finally, I honor my fellow task force members for their diligent efforts. Now the Legislature must work to give consumers information on health-care pricing and quality and allow them to choose the best doctor and facility for their care, regardless of insurance coverage.

I plan on introducing legislation to support patient choice. Utah patients feel that the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship is being violated by "big corporate health interests."

The task force made significant strides toward improving and understanding our state's complex health system. Our committee will carry that invaluable knowledge with us into the legislative session. It will serve us well as we work to ensure that all Utahns have access to the highest quality of health care at the most reasonable prices.

* Note: I wrote this op-ed piece weeks ago; it was finally published in yesterday's Deseret Morning News.


Anonymous Mike Shumway said...

Senator Waddoups I hope you adhere to the $300,000 recommendation made by the independent consultants report which was to NOT interfere legislatively in the Utah Healthcare market.

Criticisms of the report all came from competitors of Intermountain...the ONLY objective look in this process was the $300,000 tax payer funded report that recommended no "any willing provider" laws or other interventions as they would RAISE UTAHNS HEALTHCARE EXPENSES - we don't want to pay more!!

12/12/2006 3:05 PM  
Anonymous Sam W. said...

I could not agree more with Mike! It baffles me how anyone can give individuals who have a vested interest in tweaks to the healthcare system more credibility than an independent report.

12/12/2006 3:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I followed the task force...I heard most of the testimony...I read about the last task force meeting. I think the papers assessment of the task force was more accurate than Senator Waddoups editorial. Deseret news said, "Health-care panel can't sum itself up." (November 14, 1006).

I doubt the Senator could get half of the members of the committee to sign his editorial assessment.

12/12/2006 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's because the task force was bought and sold by IHC. Obviously, this blog started circulating on the IHC E-mail list at about 3:00, so we can expect some fabricated outrage on this page. The unsettling questions about how IHC mistreats its competitors remain.

12/12/2006 4:25 PM  
Anonymous J.T. said...

To anonymous #2 - anti trust laws were not created to protect competitors they were created to protect consumers. Many people don't like Walmart because they are able to provide more options at lower prices than the "mom and pop" stores. But as a consumer - I like the lower prices and higher value...I don't want legislation that makes the mom and pop more viable at the expense of higher value and lower costs available through Walmart.

As for trying to discredit comments by implying they are all "fabricated" and from an IHC source...speaking at least for myself - you're wrong.

12/13/2006 1:09 AM  
Anonymous Sam W. said...

For whatever it's worth I am like JT in that I didn't hear about this through IHC. I am politically active in my community and follow redistricting, immigration, tax policy, and every other major issue. I just find the Senate Site to be the BEST source around.

So actually while I completely disagree with Senator Waddoups and his assessment - I appreciate his willingness to put out his opinions here where anyone can comment.

12/13/2006 8:43 AM  

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