Utah Unveils Unique Health Care Option

The Salt Lake Tribune reports on Utah’s new venture into the world of health coverage — the Utah Health Exchange. Some Utah officials are opposing federal health care reform plans so they may experiment with this program on a statewide level (not that federal health care reforms are resoundingly popular in Utah anyhow):

Shopping for your health insurance plan, Travelocity.com style, is about to become a reality.

The Utah Health Exchange, a Web site where individuals and businesses can compare and buy health plans, is going live Aug. 19.

A cornerstone of the state’s health reform plans, the Utah Health Exchange marks the beginning of a defined contribution market, portable health coverage — and giving Utahns more of a say in their health care.

Only the second health insurance exchange to be developed in the country — Massachusetts pioneered the first — the Utah Health Exchange was created by HB 188. Signed into law by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. in March, it’s one of four health reform bills designed to improve the affordability and accessibility of policies, and make the market more transparent.

The Utah Health Exchange, said House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, "is one of the seminal moments in that health reform" that will help move the state toward its goal of containing costs and making health care more accessible to nearly 300,000 people.

As part of HB 188, employers will have the option of depositing money into their workers’ health savings accounts — instead of just paying a portion of their premium — allowing them to buy any plan they want.

On its launch day, the Utah Health Exchange will begin enrolling up to 150 small employer groups — those with between two and 50 workers — who intend to offer their workers this option.

Then, in early November, their workers will be able to log on with a pin number and pick the plan they like best. If they don’t elect one, they’ll be enrolled in a default plan chosen by their employer. Their coverage will begin Jan. 1.

"Our hope is it empowers consumers, or patients, to see the system and have skin in the game and make choices that influence the market," said Natalie Gochnour, chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Chamber.