‘Colorado option’ to lower insurance costs headed to governor’s desk
Rep. Dylan Roberts, one of the bill’s sponsors, says legislation is ’a long time coming’
A long-awaited, locally sponsored bill that seeks to make health insurance more affordable for some Coloradans will now head to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk to be signed into law.
The bill, which passed through a final vote in the state House of Representatives on Monday night, seeks to create a lower-cost, higher-quality option on Colorado’s health insurance exchange for individuals and small market groups.
It was sponsored by two local lawmakers: Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.
“We’ve been working on this bill for several years now … it has been a long time coming, and it is very exciting and a relief to get it across the finish line,” Roberts said Tuesday.
The bill impacts people on individual or small-market group plans. This is crucial in Eagle County, which is one of just 10 counties in the state that offers only one health insurance option on the individual market, Roberts said.
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“That’s the No. 1 issue I hear from people in Eagle county is ’my insurance premium keeps going up, and I can’t shop for anything else. I just either have to buy what’s offered or go without insurance,’ and too many people were going without insurance,” he said.
House Bill 1232, also known as the “Colorado Option” bill, has undergone 21 amendments since Roberts first introduced it with co-sponsor Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora. Gov. Polis has been pushing for this kind of legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law.
Many of the bill’s biggest amendments took place during talks in the House Health and Insurance Committee at the end of April.
The bill, as it was initially written, would have forced the health care industry to reduce costs by 20% by 2024 or else a public health care option would be created.
This public option would have been at least 20% cheaper in each county than the average premium rates offered by private insurers, according to previous iterations of the bill.
The creation of a public option was removed from the bill pretty quickly, and it now focuses on regulating private insurance to drive down premiums.
Today, the bill directs Colorado’s insurance commissioner to work with stakeholders to develop a new standard health benefit plan by next January. Insurance carriers would have to offer the standard plan in counties where they operate, starting in 2023, and reduce premiums by a total of 15% over three years.
Lowering costs, increasing choice
“My goal, since I’ve been a state rep for Eagle County and Routt County, has always been to lower the cost of insurance and increase choice,” Roberts said.
“I was willing to make amendments to the bill as long as we preserved those two goals and the bill, as it stands now, absolutely preserves those two goals and will do a lot of really good things for our state, particularly the mountain counties that suffer from really high health insurance costs and lack of choices,” he said.
Even with these concessions, the bill passed through both the House and the Senate without the support of a single Republican, with some Democrats also voting “no.”
The final vote in the House was 41-23, as one lawmaker was not in attendance.
“We accomplished the goals we were trying to accomplish,” Roberts said. “If it doesn’t look exactly the way we thought it would when it started, that’s OK because we know we have a bill that will work.”
Some of the bill’s opponents voiced concerns about the effects it might have on the health care industry. When it was considered in the Senate late last month, amendments championed by opponents diluted or removed penalties for hospitals and medical providers who refuse to accept the Colorado option.
An overly punitive approach to installing a standardized health benefit plan would drive health care providers out of Colorado, they said.
Working across the aisle is important to Roberts, he said, but in this case that venture seemed to be doomed from the start. Early on, health care industry lobbyists from Colorado and from outside of the state came out in opposition of the bill — and came out swinging, he said.
“They had dozens of lobbyists here at the Capitol that were being paid an immense amount of money to try and kill this bill and, unfortunately, the other side of the aisle kind of locked in against the policy, and that’s their choice to make,” Roberts said.
“This bill is going to help their constituents, too, and that’s great,” he added.
In Eagle County, the Vail Valley Partnership initially came out against the bill but, as it was amended, Roberts said they were able to get to a point where the partnership was “neutral” on the matter.
“They sent us their feedback, and we incorporated a lot of it,” he said.
The Vail Valley Partnership was never against the bill’s intent to reduce the cost of health care, President and CEO Chris Romer said Tuesday, but rather it disagreed with its proposed manner of doing so.
Mandating the creation of a public option put too much power into the hands of the state’s insurance commissioner — an unelected official — who would have played a large role in shaping that option, Romer said.
“It’s a better bill than it started, and that’s a good thing because compromise should be celebrated,” he said. “Outcomes are generally better when more people have a voice into the end product.”
Once the bill is signed into law, it will go into the “rulemaking process,” where stakeholders will hash out the details of what the standardized plan will look like.
The Vail Valley Partnership will come to that table ready to make sure that the plan doesn’t just “shift costs around” by reducing premiums but increasing deductibles, Romer said. It will also push for a plan design that places an emphasis on preventative health care as a tried-and-true method of reducing public health costs, he said.
“The devil’s in the details with these kinds of things,” Romer said.
The plan will be published early next year, at which point private health insurance companies will begin making plans to hit the bill’s premium reduction targets, Roberts said.
The goal is for the standardized plan to be ready for open enrollment in the fall of 2022 so that benefits can take effect in January 2023, he said.
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