Leavitt: Current health-care system can't be sustained

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The debate over health-care reform includes a mix of politics and emotion in Washington, but the former Health and Human Services secretary says there's another component looming: economics.

The United States can't afford the current health-care system, and it can't afford to keep doing nothing to fix it. The two biggest challenges are entitlements and the government's role in a solution.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt is in demand these days as a health-care reform expert. At an Intermountain Healthcare-sponsored event, he spoke about health-care reform as--for one--an economic imperative. He said, "We cannot sustain the existing system on its current course, and it will very soon strangle our capacity to be competitive."

Leavitt: Current health-care system can't be sustained

Leavitt is among those who are crafting a solution to an unsustainable system. But should government run it, or simply organize reform?

If the goal is health care for every American, the question is: What kind of system gives people more control and responsibility over their health?

In Utah, House Speaker David Clark has been crafting reform, hoping it can interface with a future federal system. He said, "A federal system, one size fits all, has some of us very, very nervous. We'd rather see the invisible hand of the marketplace rather than the heavy hand of government."

It's clear that time is running out. Too many people are losing or simply can't afford coverage. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius explained, "We have 14,000 Americans a day losing their health coverage right now, and those who have coverage are terrified that they're next."

A safety net has traditionally been Medicaid. Leavitt says any future reform has to address the system and out of control costs tied to that well-protected entitlement program. Leavitt said, "One of the things that troubles me is the debate, is how do we get more people covered by the government? We ought to be asking the question how do we reduce the cost?"

There are major political and philosophical differences to iron out with any reform package. But in the end, economic reality may force all sides to compromise.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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