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Dems finally getting something done to start lowering runaway costs of health insurance

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April 25, 2019, 9:35 am
vail valley medical center 032816
Vail Health is rapidly expanding but health insurance costs keep climbing.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, is rightly focused on the key issues voters overwhelmingly sent her to Denver to deal with last November. One of the biggest issues, for me and many other self-employed residents of Eagle County – including most small business owners – is the runaway cost of health insurance and health care in the high country.

Donovan took a victory lap on Twitter recently, touting articles in the Denver Post and Vail Daily about the successful passage of her public option bill aimed at increasing competition in underserved counties like ours, where there are only two Obamacare plans on the state exchange. Many more Colorado counties only have one such plan.

The O Zone by David O. Williams
The O. Zone

“Been working for almost 4 months to keep the pledges I made to my district,” Donovan tweeted. “Today the covers of the @denverpost & my hometown paper @VailDaily have headlines on my bills. I’ll keep working on the issues you sent me here to solve.”

One of those bills (press release below) is HB 1004, sponsored in the House by state Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon. The public option bill passed both chambers and is headed to Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.

Perhaps an even more significant piece of legislation is HB 1168, which would create a reinsurance program for high-risk customers that could possibly bring down premiums by up to 20 percent as soon as 2020.

That bill passed the House and is now in the Senate, where Donovan is again the prime sponsor. The proof, of course, is in the pudding, but taken together these two bills could start bringing down skyrocketing premiums on the individual and small-groups markets.

Over the last four years of partisan division on the Colorado Legislature, nothing has been done about obscenely high health insurance rates on the Western Slope. Now that the Democrats control both chambers, actual progress is being made.

We will know next fall when people go to renew their insurance plans for 2020, and for many that may mean actually being able to afford health insurance again. When Republicans in Washington gave a massive tax cut to corporate America, they also stripped the federal mandate out of Obamacare – meaning no more tax penalties for the uninsured.

That may seem like a good thing, but what it actually did is allow relatively healthy families like mine to pull out of the Obamacare market right when it was just starting to stabilize. I now have a non-compliant plan that still costs $1,500 a month, but one of my sons was denied for a pre-existing condition for a very benign case of scoliosis.

The two Obamacare plans in Eagle County – Kaiser and Anthem – run north of $2,000 a month for a family of five, so obviously we went with the non-compliant plan, which also has high deductibles and out-of-pocket thresholds (i.e., every option is too expensive and not even very good coverage).

We are fortunate and actually able to afford what for many would be the equivalent of a second mortgage payment, but many more people simply can’t afford that and have gone without insurance – a huge burden to our health care system when and if they get hurt or sick. Those costs get passed along to the rest of us, so bringing down the cost of health insurance is critical to the whole system.

The public option won’t be available until 2021 at the earliest, but I hope that just the possibility of competition will bring down prices on the Western Slope for 2020, and the reinsurance program would have an immediate impact in the fall.

What’s really aggravating is that these programs have been bandied about for years but are just now being put in place. The public option, for instance, just barely cleared the Senate on a 19-16 vote, with most Republicans opposing it. Prices could have already started coming down with just a little bit of bipartisan problem-solving.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Trump administration continues to try to strip away protections for pre-existing conditions and other popular aspects of Obamacare such as allowing grown children to stay on their parents’ plans.

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised some great replacement for Obamacare, he now says that will have to wait until after the 2020 election.

Can Colorado families really afford to wait? Trump says Democrats need to forget about the Mueller report detailing the corruption of his administration and move on to policy issues like infrastructure. Really? How about health care?

Here’s the Colorado Democrats release on the public option:

Roberts’ Bipartisan Public Health Insurance Option Headed to Governor

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, is headed to the Governor’s desk. HB19-1004 will create a new affordable and competitive health care option in the state of Colorado that will be available to families and individuals when purchasing health insurance. Upon signature of the Governor, Colorado will become the first state in the nation to ever set in place a process for offering a public health insurance option. 

“The cost of health insurance continues to rise to unaffordable levels, especially in our mountain communities and across rural Colorado. This bill is a reasoned, smart approach to bring competition to the marketplace and to bring down the cost of health care,” said Rep. Roberts. “Coloradans should not be forced to forgo the security of health insurance for themselves and their family simply because of costs. They deserve choice when they are purchasing insurance and that is what this bill will bring. This bipartisan effort is a uniquely Colorado solution that is carefully crafted in a responsible way to create a new, affordable health insurance option in Colorado.”

Currently, there are 14 counties in our state with only one option on the individual market and many more counties are left with a small number of options for health insurance. This bill will increase competition in the market by setting in place the process of creating a statewide public health insurance option that will be first-of-its kind in the United States. 

The bipartisan HB19-1004 will start developing a publicly supported health insurance option that leverages the efficiencies of our current state infrastructure and will be available for purchase by Coloradans as soon as the fall of 2020. This public option will help put affordable health insurance in reach for many hardworking families across our state. 

Eagle County and Routt County, represented by Rep. Roberts, have some of the highest health care premiums in the entire country. 

The bill directs experts at the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Division of Insurance to create a proposal for implementing a public option that leverages existing state infrastructure. That proposal must be presented to the Joint Budget Committee, House Public Health and Human Services Committee; House Health and Insurance Committee, Senate Health and Human Services Committee and Joint committees during SMART Act hearings later this year. 

When exploring the creation of a public option, the departments must consider affordability to the consumer, administrative and financial consideration for the state, ease of implementation and impacts to the market as a whole. 

The bill was approved in the House with a bipartisan vote of 45-18. It passed in the Senate with a final vote of 19-16. HB19-1004 was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail. After the House concurred with Senate amendments last night, the bill now heads to Governor Jared Polis for his signature. 

The Proposal for Affordable Health Coverage Option bill is part of a larger package of bills that House Democrats have introduced this year to help lower the cost of health care. 

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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