Staff column: Economy woes bury ongoing problems
With the seeming crash of the world's economy, one hears little else on the national news anymore. Even the statewide television and radios stations tend to lean toward discussing almost all issues in regards to the economy.
But there certainly are other pressing problems in our country and in our state, and while they are tied to our economic status, even if things were booming everywhere they would still be a large problem.
Take health care for example. It's rapid growth in cost and what the future may bring is very frightening to anyone under the age of 90. That's because in only a few years, its cost could be so high that no one except the very rich may be able to afford it if things don't change.
At the Utah Press Association Conference I attended in St. George this past week, Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, Dave Clark, spoke about the situation confronting all of us during a breakfast address on Saturday morning.
"In only 20 years, if things continue on the way they are, health care insurance costs will take up 100 percent of the average persons wages to keep it in force," he told the group. "If I could have seen what I was getting myself into a couple of years ago when I bit off trying to put a program together to handle health care I might have chosen something else to work on. This is the most complex problem I have every seen in my life."
Clark is heading up a move to fix health care in the state by bringing together all the players in the game of health care including health care providers, hospitals, insurance companies, businesses and community members. He said changes in the system and how things need to be done will require everyone's effort.
"After three years of study, travels all over the country to see how others are handling these problems and huge file boxes of information collected in my office, it is apparent to me that this problem is much bigger than most of us think," he said. "The economy is taking some of the light off of the problem but it's like a person having cancer that needs to be operated on because it is life threatening but then they have a serious car accident that causes them various injuries. Those caring for that person must care for those injuries first, but that doesn't take away the fact the cancer will need to be dealt with sooner or later. Health care is like that cancer and it continues to grow even while we try to deal with our economic problems."
Clark says that 17 percent of the states gross economic product is connected to health care. And business is the most important part of health care because they provide so much of the cost of health insurance premiums for their employees.
"The fact is that health care comes down to three things; access, quality and cost," he stated. "We have put together a strategic plan that will take about 10 years to implement to help us out of this problem. What we need to do is start paying for wellness instead of sickness."
The plan is to create a system that will be market based; where people can shop for the best care at the best price, like they do for an auto mechanic or a plumber. That kind of competition could bring prices down, particularly in some areas of health care.
While Clark talked about the programs and how they would work, more importantly something came out of his speech that struck me as being the most pertinent; personal responsibility. If those using health care will care about how much is spent instead of just ignoring it because insurance is paying for it, that could change things dramatically. But even more on the personal side, we need to adopt lifestyle habits (or take away some habits) that create illness. The obvious problems are smoking, drinking and inappropriate drug use. The fact is that those of us that don't have problems with these things pay for everyone else who does. When I mentioned that to someone after the speech he said, "But that is what insurance is for; to spread out the risk for all."
But I disagree. I am not pooled with someone who has five DUI's or has multiple accidents on his driving record with car insurance; he pays a higher premium for those problems and in fact he probably has to have entirely different insurance. Why should I or anyone else pay for someone who has created his own health problems? I am not talking about someone who breaks their leg skiing or falls off their ATV and breaks an arm; I am talking about long term substance abuse which creates chronic health problems. Sure it's their business, but once we all start paying for their "problem" then it becomes our business too.
It appears from what Clark told us that the state is moving in the right direction; bills are being passed and things are being done already to start to revamp the system and we will all see those changes very soon.
But regardless of what the federal or state government do, or what the health care system comes up with, personal responsibility for taking care of ourselves will still be at the heart of the matter.