Ravell Call, Deseret News Archives
Gov. Gary Herbert.

A recent poll by a coalition of community groups shows that Utahns overwhelmingly support Gov. Herbert’s Healthy Utah Plan to provide affordable health insurance to our citizens. The poll shows 88 percent of Utahns support his plan if the alternative were to do nothing. As a representative of the University of Utah Health Sciences, Health Care and Medical School, I am here to say: count us in on the support of Healthy Utah.

As Ben Franklin said, “…nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”

In the case of taxes, we’ve already paid over $142 million in federal taxes to fund Medicaid expansion across the nation, and if we continue to do nothing by 2023, Utahns will have paid — and foregone $6.4 billion, which will be spent by other states for their Medicaid patients. In Utah, we can choose to support Gov. Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan and put these pre-paid dollars to work for the health of our citizens. Or we can choose to do nothing and watch our hard-earned Utah dollars spent on other states’ health care needs. Either way, the taxes are paid, and the only way we’re getting them back is through an expansion program like Healthy Utah.

A program like this, literally about keeping Utahns healthy, is exactly what we need for our state. We are proud to live in what is already one of the healthiest states in the country, and one that is among the lowest in health care costs in the nation. We are fortunate to have some of the best health systems and providers who work hard to maintain and restore health, so we can all live better. At the University of Utah we are committed to, and nationally recognized for, providing high quality, compassionate care to all our patients, regardless of their income level.

For those who can’t afford health care and for the elderly and special populations who need more complex care, the federal government established Medicaid and Medicare. However, the Medicaid program has some significant limitations, including something called the “donut hole,” a gap in Medicaid qualification standards that leaves approximately 58,000 low-income Utahns not eligible. This gap accounts for a large part of the 15 percent of Utahns who remain uninsured. When patients come into the University of Utah, we take care of them — insurance or no. If these patients can’t pay, we write off the cost of their care in the form of charity care. Last year, for example, the University of Utah performed over $100 million in charity care and we’re expecting that to exceed $120 million this year. While we provide good care for the uninsured, as do other health systems in the state, Utahns get the bill eventually, because the costs do trickle down.

Let’s keep Utahns healthy. We can support Gov. Herbert’s Healthy Utah Plan and stop subsidizing other states. The math is simple. We’ve already paid federal tax dollars into national Medicare and Medicaid programs. We continue to pay for uninsured Utahns’ health care needs. So why pay twice?

We advocate keeping Utah dollars here, in our state, in our counties and in our cities, for the health of our citizens. It only makes sense.

Vivian S. Lee, MD, Ph.D., MBA is the senior vice president of University of Utah Health Sciences, the CEO of University of Utah Health Care, and Dean of University of Utah School of Medicine.