Utah’s Republican Governor Calls For Expanding Exchanges, ‘Encouraging Individual Responsibility’

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) promoted his state’s health insurance exchange during a health reform summit on Friday, espousing many of the same principles that are part of the Affordable Care Act:

Herbert signaled a willingness to revisit tort reform and open Utah’s Health Insurance Exchange to large employers. The web portal is now reserved for small business owners and their employees.

But he left the brain-storming of next-generation reforms to panels of industry leaders. The governor set no deadline, asking only that panelists focus on payment reform, health information technology innovations and efforts to contain costs through promoting healthy lifestyles. Utah’s reforms focusing on expanding private insurance options for consumers have been painted as a foil to President Barack Obama’s signature overhaul. But they share the same goals and some of the means for achieving them.

Herbert will likely have to modify the Utah exchange to meet the requirements of the health care law, but the federal exchange regulations provide states with a good deal of flexibility to pursue what Herbert called “Utah solutions” — reforms which, incidentally, have extended coverage to fewer than 1 percent of Utah’s 400,000 uninsured. These “Utah solutions” sound a lot like Obama’s solutions: payment reform, health information technology innovations, efforts to contain costs through promoting healthy lifestyles, encouraging individual responsibility, fostering public-private partnerships, limiting government intervention, using taxpayer resources wisely, and, ensuring state-based solutions.

Herbert has different way of going about these reforms — for instance, he’s outsouricng a lot of the planning to the health care industry — but the goals are the same and that suggests that if Republicans give up their all-or-nothing approach to governing and show interest in solving some of the nation’s health care problems, Democrats and Republicans would be able to find more common solutions to expanding access and lowering costs than today’s political rhetoric would suggest.