Despite July’s epic failure by Senate Republicans to deliver on seven years of “repeal and replace” promises, Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton — a Cortez Republican who represents part of Eagle County — still wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.
The former small business owner who represents most of Colorado’s rural Western Slope in the sprawling 3rd Congressional District correctly points out that the Colorado Division of Insurance last week approved average premium increases in the state’s individual health insurance market of 26.7 percent in 2018. Those rate increases will hit the Western Slope and other rural areas the hardest.
“This is on top of the 20 percent increase in 2017 and 24 percent increase in 2016,” Tipton wrote this week in a column and email to supporters. “The trajectory is unsustainable and unacceptable. We must repeal and replace the so-called Affordable Act and bring affordable health insurance to the 3rd Congressional District.”
Tipton in May voted in favor of the American Health Care Act that passed by four votes in the House before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had scored the bill. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat who represents the rest of Eagle County, voted against that bill, calling it a “devastating attack” on American health care, and the CBO ultimately determined it would lead to much higher premiums for people with preexisting conditions and more than 23 million people losing coverage.
But Tipton rejects those claims, still defending the AHCA this week:
“The bill would drive down the cost of health insurance and bring competition and choice to the market, while ensuring that individuals who have preexisting conditions maintain access to affordable health insurance,” Tipton wrote.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan Senate committee met last week to move past the failed repeal-and-replace bid that consumed the first seven months of the Trump administration and find ways to shore up the ACA. The committee heard testimony from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who recently rolled out a bipartisan plan to make both short- and long-term changes to fix problems with the ACA.
Tipton did not post a comment on the Hickenlooper plan on his official website and could not be reached to discuss the proposal last week. Hickenlooper opposed the AHCA, which polled at below 20-percent approval ratings nationally before being approved by the House. The bill was a non-starter in the Senate.
Colorado State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Democrat who hopes to challenge Tipton for his seat in Congress next year, argues that it’s time to stop playing politics with health care and instead work across the aisle to fix ACA problems that have plagued individual and small-group insurance markets in rural areas.
Mitsch Bush points to provisions in the Hickenlooper plan, offered in conjunction with Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, that would provide tax incentives to companies providing plans in rural areas and also allow rural residents to receive federal employee health-insurance benefits.
“This [Hickenlooper-Kasich] proposal has many excellent provisions that would really help rural Colorado in general, the Western Slope more particularly and Eagle and Routt counties – the two counties I represent – especially, because our two counties have such high insurance premiums,” Mitsch Bush said.
There’s one last-ditch effort in the Senate to repeal the ACA, but critics say it’s a wasted effort as insurance companies set rates for the coming year and the open-enrollment deadline looms.
Mitsch Bush blames regulatory uncertainty for the continued price hikes in the individual markets, which account for about seven percent of the people buying health insurance in Colorado — the majority obtaining health insurance through employers. She also faults the state insurance commission for allowing premiums to continue to rise.
“Why would the insurance commissioner allow that? That’s irresponsible,” Mitsch Bush said. “It’s sort of like this vicious cycle. There’s the uncertainty, so then the companies increase their premiums at the given date that each insurance commission requires, and then there’s more uncertainty – and particularly if Trump gets rid of the cost-sharing reduction. That’s a killer. I don’t want any policy that increases premiums for people.”
President Donald Trump has threatened to cut cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies, and the administration has slashed funding for ACA outreach by 90 percent, further destabilizing a law that was starting to gain traction. No county in the United States currently is without an insurance provider, although many counties — including Eagle and Routt — are down to just one or two.