(Salt Lake City) – Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert convened nearly 500 of the state’s brightest public health and health policy minds for his second annual Governor’s Health Summit today in Salt Lake City. With a focus on individual and community health, Summit participants worked to further identify strategies and policies that will help ensure Utah’s health reform efforts allow Utahns to be the healthiest people in the nation, and do so at an affordable cost.
“We can’t have an honest discussion about health reform if our ultimate focus is not people’s health,” said Gov. Herbert. “If we are going to drive down the costs of health care, we have to make an effort to drive down the rates of chronic disease that fuel so much of the health care spending in our state.”
To that end, Gov. Herbert used the Summit to launch his Governor’s ‘Choose Health’ Challenge, a 10-week long program where cabinet members, state agencies, and legislators will be invited to compete with the Governor in adopting healthy behaviors.
“The Governor has shown real leadership in recognizing the important role personal and community health plays in health reform,” said Utah Department of Health executive director David Patton. “Obviously, a 10-week challenge will not solve our problems, but it demonstrates the Governor’s commitment to ensuring state employees work in an environment that values wellness.”
Other discussions at the Summit centered on critical health policy decisions the state will make in the aftermath of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Such decisions include how to move forward with the Utah Health Exchange and whether or not to expand the state’s Medicaid program.
Expanding Medicaid, as envisioned in the ACA, would add an additional 111,400 people to the program and would cost the state nearly $1.2 billion over the next decade. Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, led Summit participants through a discussion about the potential costs and benefits the State should consider in determining how to address the potential expansion.
“We are still reviewing the Medicaid expansion in Utah,” Gov. Herbert said during his keynote address. “The right thing to do is take time to carefully, deliberately plan to improve the whole program. Whether improvement means some degree of expansion, a series of new waivers, or, ideally, a block grant, Utah will seek whichever course of action serves our residents best and in the most efficient way.”
The Governor also used the Summit to outline his guiding principles regarding health reform: personal responsibility, living within budgetary constraints, allowing the states to be innovators, providing help to those who need it in a compassionate way, and relying on free market principles.
Prior to the Summit, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell led a panel discussion on medical liability reform. Panel members discussed several strategies to help reduce medical malpractice claims and costs, while improving patient safety and reducing health care costs.
“Through collaboration, innovation, and hard work, I believe we can continue to make Utah a global health care leader,” the Governor said.
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Tom Hudachko, UDOH