By Meghan Lopez (February 28, 2020)
DENVER — Surrounded by health care advocates and fellow Democrats, Governor Jared Polis unveiled his updated Roadmap to Saving Coloradans Money on Health Care.
Last time around, the road map included six things: increase hospital price transparency, establish a reinsurance pool, negotiate to drive down the cost of health insurance, lower hospital prices, reduce out-of-pocket costs and lower the cost of prescription drugs.
During Thursday’s unveiling, the Governor touted the accomplishments of last session in all six of these areas while admitting there is still a lot of work to be done.
“When it comes to health care, there is no silver bullet; there is a lot of hard work that your legislators and public officials and others need to do,” Gov. Polis said.
This time around, the newly unveiled roadmap includes five areas he would like to expand upon: adopting a public option, expanding insurance purchasing alliances, increasing drug price transparency, supporting primary and preventative care availability and implementing behavioral health reforms.
“It isn’t just one simple answer that solves it, it is a combination of many, many strategies coordinated between the Governor’s office and the legislature to try to make these changes and we’re going to be working on this for many years,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, who co-sponsored some of last year’s health care bills.
Reinsurance was one of the biggest health care pieces to come out of the Colorado capitol last legislative session. It is an effort to bring down health insurance premiums for everyone by helping insurance companies cover the claims of the most expensive clients, including those with chronic or complex conditions.
However, in the months after the program was implemented, while many people saw their premiums go down, some Coloradans experienced the opposite.
“Their premiums did go down, but in some cases, their federal tax credit went down even more, so we’re working on finding federal funding sources to backfill them to make sure no one was harmed by that,” Rep. Kennedy said.
Part of the reason he believes the reinsurance program didn’t lower costs for everyone is because the health care system as a whole is complicated and something he considers to be patchwork.
Despite this, Rep. Kennedy believes the reinsurance program was an important first step to providing immediate relief to consumers.
This year, the governor is pushing for legislators to pass a bill to adopt the public option, where the state would offer a health insurance plan.
Opponents of the idea, like Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Douglas County, believe this idea is taking health insurance in the wrong direction that could end up costing people more money.
“They all might sound like a good idea, but in aggregate, that’s going to increase prices throughout the state,” Rep. Neville said.
He believes the public option would move the state one step closer to a single-payer system that could put some doctors out of business.
Instead, what he would like to see done is alleviating some of the compliance costs in health care and adding more price transparency, so people understand exactly what they are paying for. In fact, he predicts a shortage of health care providers if the public option passes.
Democratic lawmakers are also considering bills like covering the cost of fertility treatment. But with all the things Democrats are hoping to add, there are questions over how to cut costs while adding coverage options.
“It’s very important to get the big things done to reduce costs. You can do a few small things with the savings, like expand coverage and access with some of the savings as long as the bulk of them are passed along to consumers,” Gov. Polis said. “But, if you don’t generate the savings, there’s no savings to go to things like (fertility treatment coverage), so as we look at reducing savings to Colorado and I think a small part of that can go back into improving quality of healthcare, but obviously most of that needs to help the bottom line of consumers.”
Rep. Neville, on the other hand, disagrees with the Governor’s assessment and says this question of how to add more services while cutting overall costs highlights the problem.
“I don’t think there is a balance and that’s a fact that we have to face. The more we add, the higher the cost coverage is going to go and that’s a big reason why the healthcare costs of soared through Obamacare,” he said.
For Rep. Kennedy, though, the cost is not the only thing that matters. He argues that lower costs won’t help if they don’t cover enough. Ultimately, he believes Medicaid for All is the long-term solution to the state and country’s many health care challenges.
As President Trump and Democratic candidates discuss their ideas for health care, in the end, Gov. Polis says the state of Colorado can’t afford to wait for the federal government, so it will be up to lawmakers to decide how the state should combat the rising cost of health care.