SALT LAKE CITY – Sixty-nine percent of the more than 800 Utah voters surveyed for the Utah Priorities Project earlier this year ranked healthcare as an issue of top concern, rating it a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale, according to a research brief published by the Utah Foundation.
That was enough to push it to the top of the Project’s top 10 list as the most significant issue in the survey, ahead of air quality, K-12 education and state taxes and government spending.
Healthcare was also on the top 10 list at 4th place in 2012, the last year the Utah Priorities Project was conducted. This year, however, more voters listed it higher and pushed it into the top spot.
Utah Foundation Research Analyst Christopher Collard, the author of the brief, says election debates have increased interest in this issue.
“We think there was a little bit of additional interest in healthcare this election cycle because of the debate in the state legislature over the expansion of Medicaid and also just the rising cost of health care,” Collard said.
The cost of health care was the most significant worry expressed in the survey, and while hospital costs and insurance premiums continue to rise in Utah, the state also has the distinction of having some of the lowest healthcare costs in the United States.
“Utah has the lowest healthcare costs per capita in the country, and we are consistently one of the healthiest, around six or seven in the country,” Vivian Lee, the University of Utah’s Senior Vice-President for Health Sciences, said when asked about the findings of the research brief.
Utah’s young population is one reason, but she also praised efforts by health care providers.
“Intermountain has been known for many years for really using their data to improve efficiency and to keep costs down. The University of Utah is also, among all the university hospitals in the country, one of the lowest cost providers, so our healthcare systems are very cost-effective,” Lee said.
One area where Utah was not doing as well as other states is in the number of uninsured residents.
“We’re about 10½ percent and the national average is about 8 or 9 percent,” Jason Stevenson of the Utah Health Policy Project, said. “[It] means we’re falling behind and we still have many Utahns, who, when they get sick or injured, really don’t have an affordable option to get better.”
Enrollment is now underway for the coming year in the health exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act. Stevenson noted that enrollment last year increased by 28 percent over the year before.
Greg Poulsen, senior vice-president and Chief Strategy Officer for Intermountain Health Care, said the Affordable Care Act system needs improvement.
“Hopefully, in the next 12 months we can make the structural changes that are necessary so the system can be viable, hopefully more viable going beyond next year,” Poulsen said.
As the Utah Priorities Project concludes for 2016, Steve Kroes, Utah Foundation president, summarized the effort.
“It offers a guide to facts about issues that Utah voters told us they care most about,” he said. “In a year of partisan rancor, it’s a source of non-partisan information about the issues that really matter. That gives voters an opportunity to choose the candidates who represent their views best.”
About the Utah Priorities Project:
Utah Foundation has conducted the Utah Priorities Project in every year with an election for governor since 2004. After identifying the top 10 issues of concern to voters, it has published reports and issued briefs on each of the concerns through the election season.
The 2016 Utah Priorities Project is supported by donors including Union Pacific Railroad, Zions Bank, Boeing, the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation and the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation.
Research briefs on each of the top 10 issues identified in this year’s Utah Priorities Project are available on the Utah Foundation website.
About Utah Foundation:
Utah Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research group founded in 1945. Its mission is to promote a thriving economy, a well-prepared workforce, and a high quality of life for Utahns by performing thorough, well-supported research that helps policy makers, business and community leaders, and citizens better understand complex issues and providing practical, well-reasoned recommendations for policy change.
For more information visit www.utahfoundation.org