Commentary: Helping Utahns afford health care starts with finding common ground

FILE - In this April 26, 2017 file photo supporters of single-payer health care march to the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. The state Senate approved, SB562 by Democratic State Senators Ricardo Lara, of Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, of San Diego, that would guarantee health coverage with no out-of-pocket cost for all California residents, including people living in the country illegally. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli file)

The wave of recent federal activity on health care – some executive, some legislative, some partisan and some bipartisan – signals health care affordability might soon be addressed. In a world of extreme political division and nonsensical levels of polarization, this is a refreshing change of pace.

Finding consensus on policy can and should become the rule, not the exception.

One of the authors of this article represents a conservative Utah think tank that promotes health care policies grounded in free enterprise and community-driven solutions. The other represents an advocacy group seeking to advance sustainable health care solutions in Utah through policies that lead to increased access to coverage. We have a history of disagreeing on health care issues.

Yet, when our organizations met to talk about health care, we started simply trying to find common ground. Making health care more affordable quickly surfaced as something we agree on. After giving the conversation more time, we found that we had more in common, like relying on facts and evidence specific to Utah’s needs to achieve our goal.

Despite what national political narratives in the media continue to portray, we don’t have to agree on everything to find common ground and consensus on health care. Successful policies can – and often do – reflect a variety of political beliefs, and finding common ground is almost always possible. This is true even in health care, where finding consensus is difficult.

According to an Altarum survey of more than 1,000 adult Utahns:

  • 53% of adults delayed or just did not go to a doctor last year for needed medical care

  • 29% of adults did not fill a prescription, cut pills in half, or skipped a dose because of cost

  • 85% of adults are worried about affording health care in the future

Like Utah Health Policy Project and Sutherland Institute, a majority of Utahns agree – in a bipartisan fashion – that helpful policy reforms for affordability include: (1) requiring insurers, hospitals and physicians to provide upfront cost estimates to patients, and (2) making it easier to switch insurers if a health plan drops your doctor.

Utahns, quite reasonably, would like health care to act like other areas of economic life. They want transparent prices that are visible up front to find the most affordable, highest-quality options. They want the freedom to conveniently go to a different clinic if cost or quality fails to meet their needs. Insurers, providers, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals perpetuate the problem of unaffordable health care when they prevent patients – intentionally or unintentionally – from seeing the cost of their medical care or continue to use contracts that favor doctors preferred by their interests instead of patients’ preferences.

We can do better.

Utah has health care stakeholders willing to innovate to make the health care market accessible to more people. Utah has a wealth of health system information, like an All Payer Claims Database, that contains most of the information needed to give patients a transparent look at their medical costs. Utah also has intelligent and committed state policymakers and insurers who are willing to pursue policy ideas, such as reference pricing, that can turn price information into a mechanism of significant improvement for health care affordability.

What Utah requires is the will to pursue common ground on health care affordability and find a consensus focused on the well-being of patients and their families. It is always possible to find common ground; Utah’s policy leaders should take the opportunity to do it now and help us ensure affordable health care in our communities.

Derek Monson | The Sutherland Institute

Derek Monson is vice president of policy at Sutherland Institute.

Courtney Bullard | Utah Health Policy Project

Courtney Bullard is education and collaborations director at Utah Health Policy Project.