Critical Condition

Obamacare Will Destroy Utah’s Health Exchange

Back in a November 2009, Utah governor Gary Herbert complained in remarks at the Heritage Foundation that the federal government was “freezing out the states” on health-care reform.

How have things gone since then? According to the governor’s remarks (as reported by Jane Norman of CQ HealthBeat) when he returned to the Heritage Foundation last week, “Utah officials waited for eight months to find out if the state would be allowed to use e-mail rather than paper to communicate with Medicaid recipients and save $6 million a year.” Herbert concluded — with bemusement – that “they sent us a denial by e-mail.”

None of this is surprising. What is surprising is that many people continue to believe that the Utah Health Exchange, launched in 2009 to increase small businesses’ health-insurance choices, can morph into some kind of foundation upon which a consumer-driven Obamacare can be built.

Like many conservative health-policy analysts, I have been skeptical that the Utah Health Exchange was as exciting a development as its promoters claimed. Although Governor Herbert and other supporters of the exchange continue to promote it as a successful consumer-driven alternative, these claims are difficult to credit: The Utah Health Exchange has never published an annual report, and its last press release was dated April 28, 2010! Nevertheless, if not for Obamacare, I doubt that the Utah Health Exchange would have caused very much harm. It only enrolled a dozen or so businesses in its initial phase, which started in September 2009.

But I agree with Governor Herbert on this: Let Utah have its exchange. Maybe someday it will find its feet and make a serious impact. However, this can never happen until Obamacare is repealed and replaced. After all, it’s hard to enroll new members if the federal government can’t even tell you whether you can use e-mail or not.

The Utah Health Exchange cannot redeem Obamacare. Instead, Obamacare will corrupt the Utah Health Exchange.

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