Salt Lake City - As one of the first operational health exchanges in the nation, the Utah Health Exchange has garnered a lot of interest from other states. So much so that Governor Gary R. Herbert welcomed 79 top policy officials from 30 other states and Puerto Rico this week who came to Utah for a two-day symposium to learn more. The Governor's remarks reiterated his theme of Utah solutions for Utah problems.
"Health system reform can be a team effort among the states," the Governor said in his opening remarks. "States are the laboratories of democracy. We learn from each other and then adapt those lessons to fit the unique needs of our own state."
In its first five months of full operation, the Utah Health Exchange has attracted 114 employers, a quarter of which had previously not offered health insurance to their employees. It pre-dates current federal healthcare reform and is designed to help small business offer affordable employee health insurance in a way that allows employee control and choice.
Joined by a few federal officials and various private providers, symposium attendees heard about exchange development process, technology, operations, and future direction. "Utah is a national model for other states who are interested in building their own exchanges, either to comply with new federal laws or as a way of making insurance more accessible," said Utah Health Exchange director Patty Conner.
"Each state clearly needs to find ways to construct an exchange which works for its particular circumstances," Conner added. "But there are definitely some commonalities and areas of potential collaboration between the states. This event helped to lay the groundwork for that collaboration."
States are motivated to work together to drive how exchanges roll out throughout the country because there is a collective sense that the federal government will impose a solution that may not work for all 50 states with varying needs.
"Keep in mind that all of this has been accomplished with no individual or employer mandates, and with no new premium subsidies. The state is not acting as the contracting agent and we're not collecting a percentage of premiums," the Governor said. "We have not created a complex regulatory scheme or a large bureaucracy to manage the Exchange."
Dr. Norman Thurston is the state's health reform implementation coordinator. "We're a little further down the road than the other states in our health system reform efforts, so we're happy to share what we've learned. We're confident other states will create novel solutions as they build exchanges that might also benefit Utah in the future," he said.