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Gov. Spencer Cox announces new collaborative focused on lowering healthcare costs

A photo of Rich Saunders at a podium at the Capitol.
Sonja Hutson
Rich Saunders, the state’s chief innovation officer and former executive director of the Utah Department of Health, discusses the new initiative at a press conference in the state Capitol Thursday.

Gov. Spencer Cox announced Thursday he is launching a new group to find solutions to rising healthcare costs in the state.

“I'm calling on the community to set a goal initially to limit and then reduce the growth of healthcare costs in the state to never exceed the growth of our economy,” Cox said. “In this process, we will continue to provide high quality of care and eradicate inequities in that care.”

The Utah Sustainable Health Collaborative will, according to Cox, do three main things — conduct and coordinate pilot programs, help healthcare providers implement new programs and make policy recommendations to the state Legislature.

Cox said the state can help scale those pilot programs quickly through Medicaid and see if they work on a large scale.

“It's much bigger and effective than a think tank,” he said. “It will be a workshop environment that builds and proves effective health delivery models where we teach and learn from one another and enable us to scale successes so that everyone can benefit.”

Some of the collaborative’s goals include addressing social determinants of health, increasing coordination of care in rural areas and tackling the opioid epidemic.

“Increased healthcare costs not only impact Utahns’ health, they’re also a detriment to the economy,” the governor said.

He called healthcare an “economic imperative.”

“Over the next decade, outsized rising health care costs will stunt Utah's economic growth and constrain employer profits, decreasing employee wages and crowd out other state spending priorities,” Cox said.

Dr. Mary Jane Pennington, CEO of Granger Medical Clinic, said “as a physician, no one needs to tell us that the health care system is broken.”

Pennington said her company has started some programs to help lower costs for their patients that could be scaled up and cover more people. For example, they recently partnered with the University of Utah to integrate pharmacists into their primary care practices.

“These pharmacists provide an invaluable insight into potential medication interactions,” she said. “Maybe this medication is too expensive and they can help us find an alternative. Maybe our patients who can't afford meds — they have resources to find them ways to afford the medications.”

The governor’s office plans to have the group up and running by July 2022.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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