Jon Huntsman Flirted With 'Death Panels' As Governor
Two years before Sarah Palin conjured “death panels" from her active imagination, Utah’s business elite devised its own far less infamous version. And depending on who you ask in Utah, then-Governor -- and current GOP presidential hopeful -- Jon Huntsman Jr. was all for it.
In 2007, the United Way of Salt Lake City, in an effort to come up with its own solution on health care reform, assembled a gold-plated committee of civic poo-bahs: white-collar elites from the city’s Chamber of Commerce and banking industries, a conservative bunch in an ultra-conservative state. The committee met regularly in an effort to craft a reform plan that they could support.
The committee took advantage of a time when everyone in Utah seemed interested in addressing this problem. “I loved the consensus that was formed there,” recalled Judi Hilman, executive director of the non-partisan Utah Health Policy Project. “I’ve never been more hopeful for Utah health reform than at that time. All the levers that you need to pull were pulled in that proposal.”
So what did the bigwigs come up with? Along with a mandate, they produced a progressive cost control measure that would have actually addressed one of the biggest issues facing reform: the sky-rocketing expenses associated with health care. The plan called for the adoption of an independent commission, or “Health Benefits Commission,” which would essentially rule on which procedures were clinically appropriate and which were just fattening the wallets of surgeons, drug makers, and medical device manufacturers.
In the pre-Palin era, advocates and insurance heavies agreed on the commission idea for Utah. This was not seen as something that would pull the plug on Salt Lake grandmothers -- rather, it would allow courses of treatment to be determined using medical knowledge. Dr. Joseph Jarvis, who served on the committee, says he was “encouraged” by the proposal. “It would be a huge change in the way health insurance is done,” he explained. “Right now, if there is a death panel, it’s behind corporate doors. They creatively deny benefits all the time. They don’t use clinical science to do that. They might claim that but they don’t.”
In Jarvis’ telling, the commission would formulate a basic benefit package that would be based on medically appropriate and clinical evidence. Useless surgeries for back pain? They wouldn’t be in the benefits package. Invasive procedures that show no better results than over-the-counter meds for acid reflux? Also not in the package. Under the United Way plan, Utah residents could still opt for that risky surgery for that ailing back, but they would have to pay for most if not all of it themselves. The more unnecessary the procedure, the less it would be covered by insurance.