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Utah health group launches study to identify, manage growing medical costs

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Mar 31, 2024

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

David White, who after kidney surgery got hit with a lot of extra charges, sits for a portrait with some of his medical bills at his home in Temple Hills, Md., on Monday, June 26, 2023.

As rising health care costs further pinch Utah families, a nonprofit group announced Thursday the first statewide study of ways to control factors driving those increases.

Jaime Wissler, executive director of One Utah Health Collaborative, said in an interview that insurance companies and others have bought into the first-of-its-kind statewide effort to gather data showing where costs are rising and what issues are involved.

Dr. Sri Bose, the collaborative’s director of research, said health care spending is rising and continues to take up a larger proportion of state, employer and family budgets.

“The average annual family premium employee contribution in Utah increased by 35% from 2017 to 2022,” Bose said in a press release. “While average hourly wages only increase by 25%. For Utah’s employers, families and economy to thrive, we need to measure spending and its trends to ensure we have a sustainable and affordable healthcare system for all.”

In 2022, Gov. Spencer Cox launched the One Utah Health Collaborative, a community-owned nonprofit whose goal is to improve the trajectory of health care in Utah. Last week, the collaborative formed a Technical Advisory Group representing more than 95% of insured Utahns. Participating insurers include Aetna/CVS Health, Cigna, Molina Healthcare of Utah, Public Employment Health Plan, Regence Bluecross BlueShield of Utah, Select Health, United Healthcare, Utah Medicaid and University of Utah Health Plans.

The advisory group is a subset of the Healthcare Spending Task Force, which along with the collaborative’s Stakeholder Community Board, decided to start collecting data throughout the state with the goals of establishing a health care spending baseline, analyzing the state’s total health care expenditures and identifying trends in spending growth.

“We have heads of state from every major payer group, providers and (the) community as part of the board, and we hope after the data is gathered we’ll be able to begin planning ways to get everyone working together to find ways to paddle in the same direction so we can get the needle moving,” Wissler said.

“Not only is understanding the rate of health care spending growth critical, but to change its course, we also need to understand what is driving costs at a statewide level,” she added. “We will evaluate and analyze this and additional data with our stakeholders to better achieve our missions of affordable and accessible health care that improves the quality of life for all. We are grateful for all of the support we’ve received and all of those involved in this project.”

According to the press release, Utah Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who also serves as executive director of the National Association of Health Data Organizations, said at a conference in March that it’s important to collect data statewide on what is being provided in health care so “we can do cost benchmarking and call out hotspots.”

“We are appreciative of DHHS (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and the One Utah Health Collaborative, who are ensuring we watch what is happening in our state,” he said. “Without this comparative analysis, we won’t make change. We need to bring together our data to tell the full story.”

The results are expected to be completed by the end of the year, at which time they will be released to the public, Wissler said.

To learn more, go to uthealthcollaborative.org.


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