Utah taking steps to contain health costs

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah has some of the lowest health care costs in the country, and health providers in the state are working to keep those costs down.

Norm Thurston, an economist and policy adviser with the Utah Department of Health, says it’s too soon to say how the federal health overhaul will affect health costs in Utah.

Utah’s health care costs are $5,031 per capita, below the national average of $6,815, according to 2009 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

From 1991 to 2009, per capita health care spending in Utah grew an average of 7.9 percent a year, above the 6.5 percent national rate, according to the agency.

Utah’s annual growth over that period tracked national trends, fluctuating from 1.8 percent in 1994 to 9.4 percent in 2002, with cost increases in Utah slowing over the past decade to 3.3 percent a year in 2009.

There’s no formula for the “secret sauce” to keeping costs low, Thurston said, but he believes Utah’s generally active and tobacco-eschewing population is one factor.

Utah is home to the headquarters of the Mormon Church, and the majority of its residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.

Per capita costs have also stayed relatively low in Utah because hospitals and providers have been actively making it a priority for several years, Thurston said.

While costs may be lower than in other states, it’s not a solved problem in Utah, he said.

“We have the same problem that anybody else has,” he said, “How do you prevent this thing from growing out of control?”

In recent years, insurers and employers in the state began reforming the way they reimburse doctors and hospitals by adopting incentives to provide more efficient care.

“The analogy would be … you would pay your mechanic for getting your car fixed, not for just doing stuff,” Thurston said.

Those paying for care have been experimenting with awarding bonuses for quality care and entering into agreements to share the risk with providers.

Many Utah employers, particularly large employers, are also tackling costs by adopting wellness incentives, such as programs that encourage employees to stay active, quit using tobacco products and manage chronic conditions, Thurston said.

“Things that are fairly simple, but really have big payoffs in terms of personal health, productivity and then keeping your health care costs down,” he said.

Comments are closed.