BY TOM BUSSELBERG
CENTERVILLE — The Affordable Care Act will reduce health care costs over time.
That was the prediction of University of Utah Hospital & Clinics CEO David Entwistle, who spoke to the Davis Chamber of Commerce this month.
“We’re not even near the median of $2,995 a year, per capita,” in health costs among industrialized nations, Entwistle said of average yearly health costs for U.S. residents.
He cited a per capita figure of about $7,500, spiking to $16,700 when hospital stays are included.
Despite this, the U.S. average life expectancy is not the highest in the world.
Health costs here are near the developed-world average for people up to age 58, but they tend to escalate as many people start to encounter more health problems with age, Enwistle said.
“We in the U.S. want the best, want that life-sustaining care,” Entwistle told attendees of a health care summit held at the Megaplex Theatres at Legacy Crossing in Centerville.
About 10,000 baby boomers, or those born from 1946 to 1964, age into Medicare eligibility each day, he said.
“In 1965 (at Medicare’s start) there were four people working for every person on Medicare. By 2040, it’s estimated there will be two working people to pay for every person on Medicare,” Entwistle said.
The system now promotes offering more, more and more.
“We’ve got to do something to lower cost,” Enwistle said. “At the hospital, we get paid if we do something to you, if we provide a service.”
He would rather focus on keeping people well. To that end, doctors and health systems are moving to giving patients more information on how to manage their lifestyles better.
“I believe prevention was short-changed for so many years,” said keynote speaker David Sundwall, M.D., former director of the Utah Department of Health.
“The No. 1 priority (of Obamacare) was to expand health insurance. That’s in everyone’s interest. Those with health insurance are healthier. I’d love to see everyone with health insurance,” he said.
But Sundwall didn’t mince words when it came to the cost of Obamacare.
“It’s ludicrous to think it was ever going to save money,” he said.
Sundwall called the potential expansion of Medicaid to make more people eligible a “conundrum.”
It’s an issue Utah officials are still grappling with.
“It’s so cumbersome, complex and costly,” he said. “I believe most of us would like total (universal) coverage, but is this the best way to do it?”
Under Obamacare, almost all Americans (a figure of 95 percent was mentioned) and businesses with more than 50 employees must offer health insurance by next year, he said.
In addition, insurance companies won’t be allowed to deny coverage to those applicants with pre-existing conditions, said Sundwall, who is a University of Utah professor.
At the same time, more health care specialists, such as neurologists, are needed, Sundwall said. In schools, Utah has the lowest rate of nurses per capita, he said.
Health insurance exchanges are a relatively new player in health care, including the Utah Health Insurance Exchange, Sundwall said.
However, employers must opt in before employees can join and membership currently is small, he said.