August 20, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah launched a health insurance Web site Wednesday intended to foster competition and reduce consumer costs by giving workers more choices of where they can buy their insurance plans. In the Utah Health Exchange, employers can deposit money into workers’ health savings accounts instead of paying part of their premium, so employees can buy any plan they want and employers don’t have to choose and administer employee health plans. The program, found at http://exchange.utah.gov, does not offer a government-run health insurance plan. In a legislative health panel Wednesday, conservative state lawmakers and think tanks decried federal proposals for a government-run health plan saying it would jeopardize existing care and that it is unnecessary for government to help those without insurance.
“Health care is not a right, but rather, health care is one of many human needs best addressed as a market good. For those not served by the commercial marketplace, authentic charity care can fill that void,” Stan Rasmussen, public affairs manager for the conservative Sutherland Institute, told lawmakers.
State estimates show that about 300,000 Utah residents, or nearly 11 percent of the population, are uninsured.
The launch of the Utah exchange and debate over federal proposals came as a report released Wednesday said Utah health insurance premiums have increased more than four times faster than the median wage.
The report by Washington, D.C.-based Families USA, a nonpartisan consumer health organization, found that since 2000, family health insurance premiums have risen by 98.7 percent, while median earnings rose by 22.8 percent.
The report says the employer’s portion of annual premiums this decade rose 97.4 percent from $4,861 to $9,594. For family health coverage, the report says worker’s portion of annual premiums rose from $1,444 to $2,931, or 103 percent.
House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said it’s clear that health insurance reform is needed, but states should be allowed to do it on their own.
“Those solutions ought to be as diverse as all 50 states. Massachusetts should not be required to have a Utah solution for their problems,” Clark said. “The incubators in each one of the states give us an opportunity to find solutions that are workable.”
The Utah exchange, which Clark took a lead role in developing, is starting by enrolling small employer groups with two to 50 workers. The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, FirstWest Benefits Solutions and Klein Cabinets were the first employers to enroll in the program Wednesday.
“In the state of Utah we really are at an advantage,” said Lane Beattie, Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce CEO. “Here I am representing business, thanking government — I am thanking government — for their willingness to step forward to make a difference because they’re the ones that can. They didn’t come in and dictate up front what had to happen, they partnered.”
In November the workers will be able to log on to the site and pick the plan they like best. Coverage will start Jan. 1.
The defined-contribution option will be available to large employer groups in late 2011.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
To find out more about the Utah Health Insurance Exchange click here