Utah governors tried to improve health care for many years, but nothing happened.
On September 6, 2022, the Golden Room of the Utah State Capitol was filled with the glitter of Utah’s health care delivery. Hospitals, health systems, advocacy organizations and business leaders were there to witness the launch of One Utah Health Collaborative, the private sector nonprofit volunteer initiative organized by Governor Spencer Cox because that, as he said, if Utahns don’t solve the problems of our health care system, then they will be solved for us through federal intervention.
It was all very solemn and I’m sure well-intentioned, but, in my opinion, not very convincing.
It’s just that I’ve attended similar meetings, with similar solemnity, many times. I returned to Utah in 1997, and every governor since then has placed healthcare reform at the top of the governor’s agenda. Governor Mike Leavitt spoke on health care reform. He pushed and passed HealthPrint, including 10 major pieces of legislation creating Medicaid managed care and a health policy agency.
I had several personal conversations with Governor Jon Huntsman about health care reform, both when he was a candidate and after he took office. During his tenure as governor, the Salt Lake Chamber and other business organizations convened a high-level room full of leaders to recommend legislation.
Governor Gary Herbert has also spoken seriously (or so it seems) about health care reform.
I have tried to help each of these governors with their health system initiatives. Leavitt and Herbert both interviewed me as a finalist for the position of executive director of the State Department of Health before choosing someone else.
Despite all this attention from governors for 25 years, Utahans are no better off today when it comes to finding and paying for health care than they were in 1997. Americans pay far more for health care than citizens of any other country and we mostly pay for it through the highest health care taxes in the world. Despite paying more than $12,000 on average for every man, woman, and child, when Americans need health care, they often can’t afford it. Most Americans who file for bankruptcy do so because of debts due to illness and injury costs, usually debts owed by people who had health insurance when they needed care.
The delivery of health care in the United States is fraught with ridiculously wasteful overhead, costing $500 billion more every year than more efficient health care funding in other first-world health systems. American health care is the least able in the developed world to prevent the mortality that should be amenable to known clinical interventions. In US hospitals, patients often suffer preventable injuries, resulting in 240,000 premature deaths per year.
I could go on cataloging the failures of American health care, but I am tired of listing the failures and waste of our health care system. And I’m tired of listening to health leaders and politicians talk about how we in Utah can lead the nation and solve the health care conundrum.
The healthcare celebrities and the governor may have good intentions, but the Gold Room of the Utah Capitol is not where lasting healthcare reform will happen. There’s only one way to really change something as big as the health care system: through the ballot box.
If, like me, you are tired of struggling to pay or even find good health care, find out who will be on your ballot in November. The incumbents have already had the chance to reform the health system and have failed. I suggest you ignore party affiliation when voting and just vote for new leadership. If you want change, then change who represents you in Congress and the Legislative Assembly.
Joseph Q. Jarvis, MD, is a public health physician and author of two books on American health care reform: “The Purple World: Healing the Harm in American Health Care” and “For the Hurt of My People: Original Conservatism and Better, Simpler Health Care”. ”
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