In our opinion: Uncharted waters

Published: Saturday, May 4 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

A recent Society of Actuaries study claims insurance premiums for individual and small group policies will likely rise by a staggering 32 percent under the new regulations, with many across the nation feeling the pinch of premium hikes that have already gone into effect. To keep costs down, many large businesses are cutting their workers' hours in order to avoid being forced to pay benefits for full-time employees.

Seth Wenig, Associated Press

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Even its most ardent advocates are starting to notice that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, may not be so affordable after all.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who was instrumental in drafting the ACA, now concedes that the law is "beyond comprehension." His colleague Max Baucus is a bit more blunt, calling the legislation he once championed a "train wreck." The complexity of the new law makes it difficult to assess what its full implications will be, but one thing seems certain — it's going to drive up, not bring down, health care costs.

A recent Society of Actuaries study claims insurance premiums for individual and small group policies will likely rise by a staggering 32 percent under the new regulations, with many across the nation feeling the pinch of premium hikes that have already gone into effect. To keep costs down, many large businesses are cutting their workers' hours in order to avoid being forced to pay benefits for full-time employees. Some employers have made the determination that it's cheaper to pay the federal penalties of not providing health care than it is to fully comply with the law.

Is there a silver lining in all of this? Yes. And it can be found right here in Utah.

According to the Wall Street Journal, residents of the Beehive State annually pay an average of about $5,000 per person for the health care they receive. Those are the lowest health care costs in the country. Experts maintain Utah is able to keep costs low because residents generally make healthier lifestyle choices than people in the nation at-large, thereby lowering the demand for expensive medical procedures and treatments. During the debate over the ACA, Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare was repeatedly cited as one of the most efficient and cost-effective health care providers in the United States.

An important lesson may be learned here.

It's now clear that the primary focus of the ACA was to increase coverage, even if it meant increasing costs. The unintended consequence of that approach is that it becomes less costly to simply drop coverage altogether. These challenges exacerbate the economic distress that health care spending is placing both on the nation's economy and on the federal budget. Washington needs to borrow some of Utah's innovations in order to adjust the new health care law to reward healthy living and streamline bureaucratic inefficiencies.

When it comes to health care, the nation now is in uncharted waters. That's why Washington ought to turn to Utah to lead the way.

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