Players in Utah's health-care market gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday to examine Massachusetts' innovative solution to providing health care to the uninsured.

"We are not presenting this to the other states as a one-size-fits-all solution," said Cindy Gillespie, special counselor to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "We realize that every state is unique."

The Commonwealth in April became the first state in the nation with universal health coverage, using penalties and incentives for individuals and employers to require each of its 6.4 million residents to have health insurance.

"Our goal was to figure out how to get everyone in the state insured," Gillespie said.

The Massachusetts model will be discussed at length Wednesday at a meeting of the Health and Human Services Interim Committee. The first half of the meeting is scheduled to be dedicated to discussions about the revolutionary plan.

Massachusetts has 500,000-plus uninsured residents and spends $1 billion each year to provide them with free medical care. The plan seeks to shift those costs to subsidies for people who cannot afford their own insurance.

Even if the state subsidizes 200,000 people at $300 month, the state would save substantial money, Gillespie said.

Under the law, every Massachusetts resident must have insurance by July 1, 2007. Those who fail to do so in the first year will lose their state tax deduction. The state will begin to impose fines by the second year.

Thursday's presentation comes as Utah lawmakers examine ways to improve Utah's system of health-care delivery. The state currently has some 300,000 uninsured residents — more than 11 percent of the total population.

The Legislature has a task force that is in its second year of examining privately held health-care organizations, primarily Intermountain Healthcare and its nonprofit status. A new committee also has been established to analyze the state's $1.6 billion Medicaid program.

In addition, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has established a task force on the uninsured to look for systemic solutions. Richard Sperry, a member of the group, said that inviting Gillespie to speak to Utahns does not mean the Utah governor has "wholeheartedly adopted all parts of this plan."

Joseph Jarvis, president of the Utah Health Policy Project, said adopting the Massachusetts model for Utah would be a mistake. His group on Wednesday released a report critical of the plan, saying it is too expensive, creates unnecessary bureaucracy and will not cover all of the uninsured as claimed.

The shortcomings of the Massachusetts model, Jarvis said, "will inevitably lead to its failure in the Commonwealth. We should not import to Utah a policy that neither fits here nor solves problems there."

A more effective way to address the large numbers of uninsured Utahns would be to offer affordable insurance packages to small business owners, Jarvis said. The Utah Health Policy Project is a strong proponent of allowing small businesses to buy into the Public Employees Health Plan, which provides coverage to 180,000 Utahns, mostly state employees and county, city and school-district workers.

A proposal to open up the private, nonprofit health plan to Utah businesses with fewer than 50 employees failed to receive legislative approval this year.


E-mail: [email protected]