Utah is one of the few states that has a functioning, online market where employees of small businesses can go to compare and buy health insurance. Yet Gov. Gary Herbert is dragging his feet as a Nov. 16 deadline looms for the state to decide whether to operate a similar but much larger marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
There are practical and political reasons for Herbert's delay. But one thing is certain. If President Obama is re-elected, Herbert should be ready to jump into the health-exchange business with both feet. To do otherwise would cede control of Utah's exchange to the federal government. That would be a mistake because Utah officials already have experience running an exchange. It would be foolish to throw that away.
Besides, Utah Republicans always are touting Utah solutions for Utah problems. This would be a chance for Utah leaders to walk the talk.
Not surprisingly, the state government's foot-dragging is based partly on the toxic politics of Obamacare. Republicans are hoping with every fiber of their being that Mitt Romney will be elected president and, with the support of a Republican House and Senate, will repeal Obamacare. With that goal in mind, it makes little sense for the state to invest the money and manpower to create a state-run health exchange to implement the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, many Republicans have argued that to do so is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
OK, that's understandable. But what if Obama wins? Or what if Romney wins but the Democrats retain control of the Senate?
One Utah Republican has encouraged states to set up their own exchanges in order to retain maximum control of the process. That Republican is Mike Leavitt, who has some chops on this issue. He is, after all, the former secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, a former Utah governor with a proven record of federal health entitlement reform, and an insurance executive. He currently runs a consulting business that advises states on exchanges.
Because of that, some Republicans dismiss Leavitt. They accuse him of lining his own pockets. That's unfair. Especially because he also is the head of Romney's transition team. No one wants Romney to win more than Leavitt.
Utah has three choices. It can set up its own exchange, do one in partnership with the federal government or abandon the field to the feds. We hope that after the election, Utah moves quickly to put its own experience to work.