Obama: Utah's Intermountain is a model for health care

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

President Barack Obama says the nation should look to replicate the good, affordable care offered through Intermountain Healthcare as it seeks to reform its faulty health care system.

For the third time in recent weeks, Obama specifically mentioned the Salt Lake City-based non-profit. This time he singled out Intermountain during his opening remarks at a town hall forum in Virginia.

"We have to ask ourselves why there are places like Geisinger Health Care systems in rural Pennsylvania or Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City that offer high quality health care at costs that are well below average, in some cases 30 percent lower than in other communities," he said. "If they can do it, there is no reason why all of America shouldn't do that."

Obama made similar comments when he talked to the American Medical Association in Chicago and during another town hall in Green Bay, Wis.

Utah has the lowest per capita healthcare spending rate in the nation at $3,972. The national average is $7,026. Utah's low figure can be in part attributed to having the nation's youngest population and largest family size, but Intermountain executives say they have something to do with it as well.

When controlled for age and health status, Utah also performs well at lower costs, said Greg Poulsen, Intermountain's senior vice president. He attributes that to the organization's team approach, which cuts down on unnecessary tests and medication errors.

"In Intermountain Healthcare and in Utah, we're focused on evidence-based medicine, and we're more able to provide only the services our patients need. The result is, utilization is lower here, outcomes are better, and costs are dramatically lower," Poulsen said. "A growing number of health care and national leaders are seeing those results, and it's very nice that the president is among them."

Brent James, the executive director of Intermountain's Institute for Health Care Delivery Research, has also testified at two recent congressional hearings on health care reform, touting the company's electronic health care system as a way to reduce errors and bring down costs.

James and Poulsen are also big proponents of payment reform, saying the current health care system rewards physicians on a per procedure basis, instead of paying for quality care.