David Entwistle, UHA board chair and CEO of University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, said the association hired Bell for his policy chops, not his connections.
When Bell takes the helm, the association's biggest short-term challenge is what his former boss decides about Medicaid.
Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, has said he would decide in 2014 whether the state should expand eligibility for the program under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Bell said his job will be to make sure policymakers and lawmakers recognize and understand how that decision will play out for the state's diverse array of hospitals and health systems.
Bell played significant roles in healthcare policy while in government. He chaired the state's Executive Health Policy Group, which last month released its Health Innovation Plan. The plan addresses the healthcare workforce, prevention and wellness, health information technology, payment reform and tort reform issues.
Bell also promoted tort reform while in the state Senate. As lieutenant governor, he chaired Herbert's Tort Reform Medical Liability Workgroup.
With the help of a planning grant from HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the workgroup is developing a voluntary early disclosure and resolution program.
Modeled after the program the University of Michigan Health System started in 2001, the voluntary program has providers make full disclosure after a medical injury and offer a settlement to work toward quick resolution, Bell explained.
“It's really dumb to deny, delay and defend. The first thing that dies is the doctor-patient relationship,” Bell said. “The idea is that we're going to make the patient happy and work with them medically and work with them financially. That's an example to me of something that really has legs.”
Bell said he is proud of the state's reputation as a leader in health information technology. This includes having a health insurance exchange (minus the individual mandate) that predates the Affordable Care Act, an active all-payer claims database, and the Clinical Health Information Exchange where—with patient consent—clinicians can share medication records, test results, imaging reports and other medical history data.
Bell said he has turned down job offers in the business sector because he wanted to stay involved in policy. When he resigned his $105,000-a-year post as lieutenant governor, he surprised some observers by candidly explaining that he needed to make more money after the recession slashed the value of his real estate investments.
“The PR people told me to say 'It's for personal reasons.' But, if I said that, people would think it's because of a scandal,” he said.
The hospital association declined to say how much Bell would be paid in his new job. According to the UHA's latest 990 tax form, Betit received $214,346 total compensation in 2011 which included a base salary of $197,051.
Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks