By Marianne Goodland (January 23, 2020)
The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing released a report Thursday that accused several Front Range “mega” hospital systems of price-gouging Colorado consumers to fatten their own wallets.
The announcement came one day before a Joint Budget Committee hearing on costs for a public option plan and the state’s 2019 reinsurance program, which are expected to exceed initial estimates by hundreds of millions of dollars.
And at least one lawmaker in Thursday’s news conference used the time to strike back at the hospitals and others who are running a six-figure ad campaign decrying aspects of the public option plan released last November.
The HCPF report, an analysis of Colorado hospital cost-shifting, claimed hospitals, primarily large for-profit and non-profit hospitals in the Front Range, have failed to reduce health care costs, despite state efforts going back more than a decade to reduce the burden of uncompensated care. The report is a final one that follows a draft report from January 2019.
Cost-shifting has long been blamed as one reason for the rising cost of health care. It takes place when a hospital shifts uncompensated costs from those who can’t pay for their health care to those with private insurance, which Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera said Thursday drives up health care premiums for everyone.
But since the hospital provider fee went into place in 2009, the costs for uninsured health care have dropped by half, according to the report. Hospitals have reduced their losses by $385 million, the report said.
According to a 2009 letter from the Colorado Hospital Association, “By increasing hospital reimbursement rates and covering the uninsured, we will reduce the rate of rising healthcare costs,” the letter said.
The exact opposite has happened, according to Primavera and HCPF Executive Director Kim Bimestefer. Hospital per-patient profits are soaring, from $500 per patient in 2009 to three times that amount in 2018. “Despite significant reductions in uncompensated care and significant increases in Medicaid and Medicare” provider payments, “hospitals are persistently increasing the price of care,” according to a fact sheet distributed Thursday.
House Assistant Majority Leader Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, at one point held up a mailer that’s part of a six-figure ad campaign by the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future and Colorado’s Health Care Future on the public option proposal. “It makes my blood boil when I received this in my mailbox, saying contact your state legislator to protect the status quo…. This came out of your premium dollars!” he thundered.
That campaign is backed by the Colorado Hospital Association and health insurers and targets a public option proposal that they claim will shift $1.5 billion in health care costs over a five-year period to Coloradans who have their own health insurance.
Colorado’s Health Care Future also claims the public option will jeopardize access to health care in rural hospitals and critical care facilities and could result in 13 rural hospitals closing.