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Health insurance debacle: Reinsurance, preexisting condition protection, public option all in danger

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May 7, 2020, 10:14 am
COVID-19 testing in Gypsum (Vail Health photo).

I’ve written extensively in the past about how absolutely unaffordable individual-market health insurance plans (the ones you must buy if you don’t get help through your employer) are in Eagle County, where we have just one company – Anthem – selling Obamacare plans.

For our family of four, it’s $1,600 a month for an Anthem silver plan and we make too much to qualify for Affordable Care Act (the other name for Obamacare) tax credits – or at least we did until the economy went off a cliff in mid-March. We’ll see what the coming months bring, but if you qualify, it’s very difficult to afford sky-high housing, daycare, groceries and gas here.

And that Anthem plan amounts to basically really expensive catastrophic insurance because it has a $6,500 deductible before you get significant benefits.

No wonder many small business owners and self-employed entrepreneurs roll the dice and go without coverage. If the choice is your house or insurance you hope to never use – or can’t afford to for anything short of a major illness – you’re probably going to choose basic shelter first.

The only ray of sunshine in all of this, after years of double-digit price increases since the advent of the ACA and subsequent and ongoing Republican attempts to gut the law was a reinsurance bill at the state level last year that brought premium prices down 20%. That’s right, Anthem plans for a family of four used to cost more than $2,000 a month.

There was even more hope with the possibility of a public option bill this session that promised to increase competition (thanks, Kaiser, for bailing on this market after 2019) and bring down prices even more.

Now that public option concept has been shelved, ironically, by a global pandemic that sharply underscores the need for more insurance options and lower prices (see press release below).

And the ACA itself, which pays for most of the reinsurance savings, could be going bye-bye too if the Trump-friendly U.S. Supreme Court next year finally does what Republicans in Congress could not and essentially repeals without replacing Obamacare.

This from the Washington Post on Wednesday:

“’We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,’” President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday, the last day for his administration to change its position in a Supreme Court case challenging the law. “’Obamacare, we run it really well … But running it great, it’s still lousy health care.’”

“While the president has said he will preserve some of the Affordable Care Act’s most popular provisions, including guaranteed coverage for preexisting medical conditions, he has not offered a plan to do so, and his administration’s legal position seeks to end all parts of the law, including those provisions.”

So imagine how hard it will be to get affordable health insurance for 2021 and beyond, especially if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, which will no doubt be considered a preexisting condition – one for which you and your family can then be denied future coverage.

Now here’s Monday’s press release from two local state lawmakers who tried to move the public option bill forward to increase competition:

Legislators to withdraw the Colorado Option from this year’s session  

Denver, CO —  In the midst of a national health care emergency, State Senator Kerry Donovan, State Representatives Dylan Roberts, and Chris Kennedy on Monday announced that they are formally withdrawing the Colorado Option legislation from this year’s legislative session to ensure that all of the relevant stakeholders can be robustly involved in the process, which is simply not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.  


“While our state battles COVID-19, we note that this crisis is illuminating the vast gaps in our healthcare system,” said State Representative Dylan Roberts. “As the economic devastation unfolds and more Coloradans lose their access to employer-based insurance, it’s more clear than ever that our system is broken and that Coloradans deserve more choice and lower prices.” 


State Senator Kerry Donovan said, “While we are withdrawing the bill for this session, we remain committed to developing affordable healthcare options that increase access and competition in every part of Colorado.”


Legislators will continue to work on the Colorado Option and fight to make sure the healthcare industry focuses on people, not profits, and will look for any possible solution to support those who lose health care or simply lack access to it. For 52% of Coloradans, access to health care is dependent upon having a job.

Senator Donovan, Representatives Roberts, and Kennedy met the health care challenges facing Colorado head-on by working for years to craft the Colorado Health Care Option that was introduced at the legislature just over a month ago. The bill, HB20-1349, had passed its first committee hearing in the same week as the first cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Colorado mountain communities. This was an unwelcome coincidence that saw the very people struggling to afford health care be the first ones hit by a life-threatening health care pandemic.

Then on March 14th, for the safety of the public and those who work in the Capitol, the Colorado General Assembly adjourned, putting the Colorado Option on hold.


The Colorado Option continues to be the right policy and will help people across Colorado by increasing access to affordable health care. However, the legislation’s critical stakeholder group – Colorado’s nurses, pharmacists, EMTs, doctors, and hospital staff – simply cannot be expected to participate in a policy process while trying to cope with a worldwide emergency. Right now they need to focus on taking care of patients and themselves.


Bill sponsor Representative Chris Kennedy said, “When we introduced the bill, we sought robust engagement with nurses, pharmacists, EMTs, doctors, and hospital staff. We plan to engage them after we emerge from this pandemic, and come out with stronger legislation that increases access to affordable healthcare across Colorado.”

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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, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, 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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