SANDY — Utah's hot economy could be derailed if problems with the health-care system are not solved, a Salt Lake Chamber official said Friday.

Speaking at a Utah First Fridays meeting, Natalie Gochnour, vice president of policy and communications for the chamber, said a bill expected to be introduced at the upcoming legislative session could provide a framework to "put us on a path toward reform." The timing is right, she said, because government, industry, corporate and consumer stakeholders are participating.

"We have a business community that is ready to move," Gochnour said. "We are ready to go to bat to fix our health system. I didn't say 'health care.' We have great health care. Our system's messed up."

The legislative bill, she said, would address "knitting together" health-care cost, quality and access issues and empower the insurance commissioner, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the state health department to work for two to three years to consider laws that need to be changed, money that would be needed to address issues and federal government issues.

If Utah does not act, she said, it could face a federally imposed single-payer system.

"If every state should be in a federal, one-size-fits-all, top-down, imposed change, it would hurt Utah," she said. "It will hurt it because we are the youngest state, the healthiest state, we have very low health-care costs in our state. It makes us want to handle it differently."

Gochnour said health-care costs now represent 16 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. "It's far more expensive than it needs to be," she said, adding that a doubling of premiums since 1996 has forced many employers to stop providing coverage to their workers. And having an insurance-providing company competing against a nonprovider results in "an unlevel playing field, and it's happening in our state."

While she acknowledged that the legislative bill likely will have provisions that the chamber, insurance companies and provider companies will not like, she said stakeholders are ready to see action.

She urged attendees to monitor the bill's progress and provide input. "It would be wrong," she said, "if something that's 16 percent of our economy (is) for only a few people to decide."

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