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John Florez: Health care reform requires moral leadership

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

FILE - This Oct. 11, 2012 file photo shows a basket of medical supplies await storage in Brookhaven, Miss. The No. 1 question about President Barack Obama’s health care law is whether consumers will be able to afford the coverage. Now the answer is coming in: The biggest study yet of premiums posted publicly by states finds that the sticker price will average about $270 a month if you’re a 21-year-old buying a mid-range policy. That’s before government tax credits that will act like a discount for most people, bringing down the cost based on their income.

Rogelio V. Solis, File, Associated Press

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Is there a moral lapse when it comes to promoting health for all Utahns?

Public policymaking is a moral matter. It’s not simply what is right or wrong, or what is politically correct. It involves leaders making decisions that reflect a community’s values. No matter the rhetoric, follow the money. That reflects their priorities and values.

The governor and legislators don’t seem to worry about the federal government not keeping its word when they readily accept more than $6 billion of federal money for the state. Yet they say they don’t trust the feds to help pay for 123,000 Utahns in need of affordable health care. Policymakers say they are reluctant to spend Utahns' tax dollars on health care for those that can’t afford it, yet appear eager to spend an estimated $640 million of state tax dollars to move the state prison for private development without an adequate study. Seems that ought to present a moral dilemma.

This week, members of the faith community sent a letter to Gov. Herbert asking him to support the expansion of Medicaid. There have been several groups ranging from business, nonprofits and health professionals also urging the governor to do so. The clergy’s request highlights the moral imperative for the governor to act in keeping with our values; to care for one another, especially those in need, and to promote the public good. Collectively, the groups offer the citizens a “Utah solution” to health care.

According to the Public Consulting Group (PCG) study commissioned by the state health department at the governor’s request and released in May, it estimates the state could generate a $2.9 billion economic impact, create 4,100 new jobs, generate $203 million in state and county tax revenues and save $814 million in hospital and community center uncompensated costs over the next 10 years.

After over a year of study and referring to committees, the governor continues to hesitate making a decision that legislators said he could make. What really are the governor’s priorities? He has expressed different reasons for his indecision: taxpayers’ interest, burden on business, the feds not keeping their commitment and the latest, a drain on the federal budget. What seems to be missing is any demonstrated care and compassion for those in need. He says he must consider the taxpayers’ interests, yet appears to dismiss the health department’s study that said it would save and benefit the state. He said the Affordable Care Act would lose jobs, yet the study estimates it would create more jobs. Businesses are already benefiting by not being burdened for the health care of all Americans.

While the governor believes health care is not a “right,” it is a moral issue — how a society cares for each other. Lost in the decisionmaking is the compassion the faith community requests. As the author John W. Gardner has pointed out, “Leaders have a significant role in creating the state of mind that is the society. They can serve as symbols of the moral unity of the society. They can express the values that hold the society together.”

All too often we take life and health for granted. It’s only when we experience their loss that we realize there is nothing more precious. The success of any society is how it holds on to its common values — the life and dignity of the individual, and how we care for each other. That’s the moral imperative our leaders and all of us ought to embrace.

Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch’s staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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