Joseph Q. Jarvis: Common sense needed for Utah health care

Health care is something everyone needs and should have.

In August 2020, the Utah Foundation noted that during the decade from 2008 to 2018, health insurance premiums rose 40% and deductibles for health insurance rose 74%, together making Utahns’ out-of-pocket expenses the eighth highest in the United States. Because of these rapidly rising costs, an estimated 429,000 Utahns were unable to get the health care they needed in 2018 — because they could not afford it.

Concerned about these rising costs, a group of Utah doctors, activists, and business leaders convened in late 2021 and created a non-profit organization, Common Sense Health Care for Utah, which is dedicated to reforming the way health care business is done in our state.

We commissioned a study of Utah health care expenditures through the Matheson Center for Health Care Studies at the University of Utah in 2022. We found that $28 billion will be annually spent on health care in Utah, with at least two-thirds of that money coming from taxes. As American citizens, we pay the world’s highest taxes for health care and then, on top of that, every Utahn spends on average $2,800 more out of pocket — if they can afford it. Those who can’t go without the care they need. Our study found that Utah has the second highest growth rate for health expenditures in the nation, a rate that will double health care costs every decade. Utah simply cannot afford to continue down that path.

It is time for the people of Utah to change how health care business is done in the Beehive State. We need a better, simpler health care system that includes every Utahn — no exceptions. Our preliminary surveys find that Utahns believe that health care is too expensive or flat out unaffordable.

Utahns also recognize that health care is not like typical consumer goods: it is something that everyone needs and should have. By a margin of 97% to 3% Utahns believe that health care should be made affordable for every family. And by a margin of 87% to 13% Utahns believe that we here in the Beehive State can make health care affordable.

We all know that by doing so we would be helping both ourselves and our neighbors, and we Utahns care for each other. By a large margin, Utahns would vote for an affordable health plan if it were on the ballot.

Which is why Common Sense Health Care for Utah announced a listening tour across nine cities in Utah beginning on February 6. We are undertaking this listening tour in order to learn more details about health care concerns from the citizens of Utah.

What parts of health care are seen as too expensive? Where do Utahns see the highest prices and the most waste and complexity? Which approaches to solving the problems of excessive costs, financial barriers and access gaps are most popular among patients?

We invite everyone to bring your ideas, tell us your stories, and be part of the process of fixing health care. Health system reform, if it is to be effective, should reflect what patients need, not what is wanted by health insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

We aim to incorporate the best ideas of all Utahns into a single policy that will cover every Utah patient, protect the freedom to choose your doctor, and lower costs for everyone. Then we will bring that proposal before the voters in the form of a ballot initiative — one that is truly a law of the people enacted for patients.

Even if you are unable to meet with us on this listening tour, we invite you to join us in this effort. Go to our website (commonsensehealthcareutah.org) and tell us your health care stories, volunteer your time, and donate your dollars. Get involved and let’s bring common sense back to health care in Utah.

Joseph Jarvis

Joseph Q. Jarvis, M.D., Salt Lake City, is chair of the board of directors of Common Sense Health Care for Utah