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Guest Editorial

Kinde Nebeker Salt Lake City

I am a healthy woman in her 40s, owner of a small business and I don’t have health insurance, by choice. The reason is that the system requires me to pay so much more than someone of my same demographic who works for a large company. I rebel by sticking my head in the sand. I am playing the odds, feeling confidant of my current health, and keeping an eye out for health care reform. Not smart? Maybe not, but I am seeing a glimmer of light, right here in good old Utah. There is a bill afoot in the Utah legislature that would change the statute to allow small business owners to buy into the Public Employees Health Plan (PEHP) for about the same amount that the public employees pay. The public employees of Utah have a fine benefit plan for a reasonable price. The PEHP is administrated by a private company that puts the money they collect into a private trust fund to be spent only on health care for the patients they cover. They run with a 3.8 percent administrative overhead because of this trust fund. The statute that created PEHP has been changed once before to allow the coverage of not only the employees of the state, selected counties, cities and educational groups but also to allow coverage of the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP). There is precedent for change in the statute. The current proposed bill (HB 122, sponsored by Steve Mascaro) would change the statute again to include coverage of small businesses with 50 employees or less. Governor Huntsman has a stated goal to cover 50 percent of the uninsured by 2010 (May3, 2005, Healthcare Summit). This bill would help him get to that goal. No extra tax money is involved. The costs of the premium would be shared by the small business and their employees. The risk pool of state employees would be improved by adding the young and healthy self-employed and entrepreneurial types like myself who start and run small businesses. The amazing truth is, PEHP can administrate health care for less than the private companies. Premiums paid into the PEHP plan go into a private trust fund and then directly to health care costs. Insurance companies can’t compete because of excess administration cost (read CEO salaries). Although the good folks at PEHP are not looking to upset the current status and have not proposed that they grow to cover more people, they are ready to handle the extra work this bill would make for them. The extra administration they would need could be sent to the rural parts of the state on an Internet platform. Good jobs in this new insurance project would be generated in the rural parts of the state a much needed and smart rural economic development option. Insurance companies increasingly offer plans which have higher premiums and less healthcare delivery. More and more small business owners can’t afford to help employees buy health insurance or are paying a smaller proportion of the cost. If current trends continue, approximately 4,000 more people in Utah will be without health insurance by year’s end. This is an opportunity for small business owners to take their private health insurance money to a well-run private trust fund program, which pays for health care a first in the nation. Let’s let PEHP compete with the private health insurance companies. I will pull my head out of the sand and support the program that can give me honest health care for a real price.


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