SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The health care debate in the Utah Senate moved toward compromise Friday, as senators amended a bill that would force Intermountain Health Care to sell off its insurance arm and instead send the issue back for review.
IHC could still be forced to sell, but not for 33 months and not unless a study of tax issues related to its health care division profits proves that the company is no longer functioning as a nonprofit organization.
After debate and a handful of attempts to amend the bill on the floor, the Senate voted to pass the measure 18-8, with three absent. The vote is only a preliminary approval and a final vote is expected next week.
"It just keeps their feet to the fire and makes everybody deal above board," bill sponsor Sen. Mike Waddoups said of the late afternoon proposal. "This is not a minor, easy, simple issue."
Waddoups had originally sought to impose a 3 percent tax on the Utah health care giant's insurance arm because he believes that portion of IHC controls too much of the market. A senate committee opted to pursue a breakup of IHC instead of the tax.
Friday's compromise is as close to a "kumbayah" bill as lawmakers get, said Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley City, who proposed taking until July 1, 2008, to settle the issue.
"Both sides don't really like it, but it gives us three and half years to keep the pressure on with IHC and to study the tax issue," said Mayne. "From where the bill was to where it is now, is better."
Senators also voted unanimously to recall the "any willing provider" bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, with the intention of rolling it into the study portion of the IHC bill.
The controversial bill would allow patients to seek health care from any doctor or hospital if that provider is willing to accept a fee that is 95 percent of their insurance company's reimbursement rate.
The bill raised the hackles of many who said it would drive up health care costs. During the final vote that passed the bill, several senators urged sending the measure to study.
The bill had already been set for a hearing in the House, but Buttars said he was willing to compromise and recall it.
"The big cry has been to study this thing. It doesn't make sense to force one on and send the other to a three year committee," he said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)