Guest commentary: Hickenlooper has proven he is effective leader for affordable health care

Guest commentary: Hickenlooper has proven he is effective leader for affordable health care

By Chris Kennedy (September 1, 2020)

As our country deals with an unprecedented global pandemic, I’m tempted to tell you stories about John Hickenlooper, crisis governor, who effectively guided Colorado through fires, floods, and mass shootings. But instead, I’m going to tell you about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s bold initiatives to reform our broken health care system. Gov. Hickenlooper’s commitment to improving access and reducing costs in our health care system contrasts sharply to the more-than-disappointing record of Sen. Cory Gardner.

As a Colorado House of Representatives staffer from 2010-2013 and as a representative myself since 2017, I saw firsthand what Gov. Hickenlooper did for people struggling to afford high-quality health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act, while imperfect, was a huge step forward for many reasons, including protections for people with preexisting conditions. In 2011, one of then-Congressman Gardner’s very first votes in Congress was to repeal the ACA. That same year, Gov. Hickenlooper signed a bill establishing Connect for Health Colorado, a cost-effective and transparent tool to help people shop for health insurance. And he appointed a health care reformer, Sue Birch, to head the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing where she led efforts to integrate behavioral and physical health care and move away from fee-for-service and towards paying-for-value in our Medicaid program.

In May 2013, as Congressman Gardner voted for the 37 th time to gut the ACA, Hickenlooper signed the Medicaid expansion bill, giving coverage to half a million more Coloradans. Also in 2013, Hickenlooper signed an executive order establishing the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, a first-of-its-kind collaboration that has helped Colorado emerge as a national leader on fighting the opioid crisis, which is killing nearly 50,000 Americans each year even while COVID-19 has killed 173,000 this year.

In 2014, Congressional Republicans–including Cory Gardner–finally achieved one of their goals and defunded the risk corridors program, which was a critical component of the ACA designed to ensure costs wouldn’t spike in rural regions like Colorado’s western slope, where people pay some of the highest insurance premiums in the whole country. This action directly contributed to the huge increases in premiums over the next several years. The premium increases were so bad that many people opted out of buying health insurance at all. The reduced enrollment elevated the risk of a potential collapse of the individual market that would shift higher costs onto everyone else. Toward the end of the 2017 session, Gov. Hickenlooper’s team approached me about sponsoring a bill to study the potential for a “reinsurance” program to reduce premiums, stabilize the market, and prevent the cost shift.

In 2018,  Hickenlooper supported me and my colleagues as we took on the corporate health care interests to establish a reinsurance program. We passed the bill in the House with bipartisan support, but it was killed by the GOP Senate majority. But we tried again in 2019 with Democratic majorities in both House and Senate, passing the reinsurance bill which reduced premiums on the individual market by an average of 20.2% in the first year.

Governor Hickenlooper also had our back on demanding cost transparency from hospitals and drug companies, protecting consumers from surprise bills at free-standing emergency rooms, and several other strategies to reduce the high cost of health care. And, he appointed more reformers to top positions in his cabinet including Donna Lynne, Michael Conway, and Kim Bimestefer.

As governor, Hickenlooper worked tirelessly to clean up the mess Gardner helped create. And now we need him to do it again. Over his decade in Washington, Cory Gardner has shown us exactly who he is–a Trump loyalist who consistently sides with big corporations at the expense of regular, hard-working Americans. Even during this pandemic, Gardner has worked with Trump to rip care from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans and gut protections for millions of Coloradans with pre-existing conditions.

I’m voting for John Hickenlooper this November because I’ve seen his character and commitment to getting things done for regular folks. I’m voting for John because he wants to build on the ACA, not repeal it. I’m voting for John because he knows we can add competition to the market and further reduce costs by creating a public option, allowing Medicare to negotiate with big drug companies to get better prices, and expand access to telemedicine.

Especially during these difficult times, we need leaders who will fight for a better future for all of our neighbors. Please join me in voting for John Hickenlooper for U.S. Senate this November.

Chris Kennedy represents House District 23 in Lakewood and Central Jeffco and serves as Assistant Majority Leader.


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