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Utah group seeking health care overhaul aims for universal coverage

By Tim Vandenack - | Feb 9, 2023
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Steve Olsen addresses a meeting organized by Common Sense Health Care for Utah on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the Main Branch library in Ogden. Leaders of the group hope to put a question on the 2026 election ballot calling for the overhaul of Utah's health care system and they came to Ogden seeking public input.
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Dr. Joseph Jarvis of Common Sense Health Care for Utah addresses a gathering on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the Main Branch library in Ogden. Group members hope to craft an initiative to put on the 2026 election ballot to overhaul Utah's health care system.

OGDEN — The doctor helping spearhead efforts to put a ballot initiative to Utah voters to overhaul the state’s health care system says any fix ought to contain provisions that assure coverage for everyone.

“The No. 1 idea is universal — everyone’s covered, no one’s left out,” Joseph Jarvis, chairperson of the Common Sense Health Care for Utah board of trustees, said Wednesday during a visit to Ogden. “There has to be universal (coverage) because, otherwise, why do it?”

One of the key focuses would be reducing health care costs, he added, and he also envisions the private sector, not a governmental entity, providing health care under any proposed fix, still to be pinpointed. Individuals would be able to pick their own doctors.

“I think traditionally in the United States, we love the private sector,” he said. “So I can’t imagine us having anything other than private health care delivery.”

Reps from Common Sense Health Care for Utah and their backers unveiled plans at a Salt Lake City press conference on Monday to craft a question to be put on the 2026 state election ballot proposing reform of the way health care is financed in Utah. Those involved are now on a “listening tour” to gather feedback before putting a proposal together and Jarvis spoke Wednesday in Ogden on one of the stops.

Though Jarvis indicated some broad parameters of a possible ballot initiative, a proposal has not yet been crafted and he shied from pinpointing possible specifics as input is being gathered. Those pursuing change would need to get the signatures of an undetermined number of Utahns on petitions to actually get a question, once crafted, on the ballot.

“I don’t envision anything at this point. I’m trying to find out what people want,” he said. “We don’t want to present something prematurely before we’re able to defend it.”

That said, the health care system in the United States, as is, has plenty of inefficiencies and shortcomings, notably high overhead costs, he said.

Overhead amounts to 20%-30% of health care costs in the U.S. system compared to just 4% in some countries. Utah Foundation research, meantime, shows that the cost of insurance premiums rose 40% between 2008 and 2018, he said, while at the same time deductibles on insurance policies increased 74%.

“Because of these rapidly rising costs, the Utah Foundation estimated that 429,000 Utahns were unable to get the care they needed in 2018 because they simply couldn’t afford it,” he said.

He bristled at the notion his group is pursuing “socialized medicine” — a critique some put forward in the debate over boosting government involvement in the health care system. “We recognize Americans prefer private health care delivery. We’re not a socialized medicine group and we never will be,” he said.

In fact, as is, Jarvis said health care rationing, one of critics’ key gripes with state-run health care systems, occurs in the U.S. system.

“We ration care in the United States like no other nation, except we ration it by ability to pay,” he said. “So the baby who’s born into a relatively less well-off family languishes and dies for lack of care in our system because their family can’t afford to pay for it.”

From administration to administration, Utah governors dating to the late 1990s have pushed to overhaul the state’s health care system, he said, so far to no avail. “Nothing has changed,” he said.

Still, Common Sense Health Care for Utah reps will work with government officials as they pursue legislative remedies. “We want them to succeed. But we are not going to just stand here and wait for them. I’ve been at this for 30 years, nothing has changed. I think it’s time for the people to have a shot at it,” he said.

A handful of people addressed Tuesday’s gathering at the Main Branch library in Ogden, speaking about their tough experiences with the health care system here in Utah.


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