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Huntsman considered health care mandate for Utah, some say

Published May 23, 2011 2:41 pm

Politics • Requirement to purchase insurance is a major GOP criticism of president's plan.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hancock, N.H. • During a campaign stop Friday, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. presented Utah's health reform as a model for what other states could do.

And, Huntsman pointed out, Utah did not mandate that people buy health insurance, unlike the Massachusetts model now a thorn for Mitt Romney.

His assertion, however, was called into question by a story in the Huffington Post, under the headline "Huntsman vs. Huntsman," which quoted Utah health policy players who said Huntsman had wanted a mandate but didn't get it.

Dr. Joe Jarvis, who was part of a health reform group set up by The United Way, said the mandate, along with a health insurance exchange and a cost-control task force, was part of the package the group recommended, which Huntsman supported.

But legislative leaders torpedoed the proposal when Huntsman took it to them.

"It included a mandate, and the governor, who was very excited about a proposal by a community group with as much size and influence as the United Way ... bought the whole package," Jarvis said. "He went to the Legislature assuming they'd be very happy to take this, but he was just blown away."

And Judi Hilman, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, said Huntsman understood that the mandate a "structural necessity" for health reform to work. WIthout it, young people wouldn't sign up for insurance while older, sicker people would and the exchange would crumble.

"It tells me the governor got it once and I wish he would show some courage about this political bloodsport that's going on about the Massachusetts plan," she said.

But others who worked closely on Utah's health reform, like Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, don't recall the governor backing an individual mandate.

Dr. David Sundwall, who was the director of the Utah Department of Health under Huntsman, said several advisers held a series of meetings at the home of Ian Cumming, a wealthy supporter. A mandate was among the ideas discussed, and he went to Massachusetts to see how its mandate worked.

"We certainly explored that. But it is overstating it to say the governor endorsed it," Sundwall said. "We looked at it and did not press for that. He never endorsed it, per se. It was just an option."

And U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who was Huntsman's campaign manager and chief of staff until November 2005, said he doesn't recall the governor backing a mandate.

"I was impressed that Jon Huntsman wanted to tackle health care, but I don't ever recall him wanting an individual mandate," Chaffetz said.

Speaking to a group in Hancock, N.H., on Friday, Huntsman said Utah's plan serves as an example of what states can do to reform health care.

"We thought about mandates, good or bad. We thought about letting the market do its thing, good or bad," he said. "It will be very [interesting] over the next few years to see if a non-mandated approach gets us to where we need to be. I think it will."