Colorado House passes health insurance bill

With 40-23 vote, bill now heads to Senate for consideration

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, left, and Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, are both sponsors of House Bill 1232, which aims to create a new lower-cost, higher-quality health insurance option for the individual and small group markets on Colorado’s exchange. The bill cleared the House with a 40-23 vote Monday and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

Colorado’s House on Monday passed House Bill 1232, which aims to provide new lower-cost, higher-quality health insurance options for the individual and small group markets on the state’s exchange.

The bill passed the House on a 40-23 party-line vote.

Supporters argue it is something needed to help more people afford health insurance and access health care, and compensate care providers at a fair rate. Opponents argue it will inadvertently reduce access to care by driving doctors and other providers out of the state.

“Today, the House passed historic legislation to save Coloradans and small businesses 18% on their health insurance and create a new choice for consumers,” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, said in a news release announcing the vote. “For the Coloradans who avoid going to the doctor or hospital because they can’t afford health care, particularly for those who live in the mountains and rural Colorado where prices are so high, this bill is a giant step forward that will reduce the costs of care and increase competition.”

Roberts cosponsored House Bill 1232 with Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.

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If passed and signed into law, the bill would direct Colorado’s insurance commissioner to develop a new standardized health benefit plan by January for the individual and small group markets on the state’s health insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado.

Starting in 2023, insurance carriers would have to offer that standardized plan — now being dubbed the Colorado option — in the counties where they currently offer coverage, at rates at least 6% less than the plans they offered in 2021. Additional premium reductions of 6% would be required in 2024 and 2025, totaling 18% over three years.

The small group market on Colorado’s exchange is open to employers with fewer than 100 employees. It and the individual market together account for about 15% of the state’s health insurance market.

House Bill 1232 saw hours of debate last Thursday, with debate continuing well into early Friday morning.

Before Monday’s vote, Republicans continued to question where the 18% in savings will come from, voiced opposition to a requirement that doctors and hospitals must accept patients covered by the standardized benefit plan, and questioned the adequacy of its reimbursement rates for that care — arguing the bill, however well-intentioned, will have negative consequences for health care costs, quality and access in the state.

Rep. Andres Pico, R-Colorado Springs, predicted the bill will “wreck health care in Colorado,” forcing clinics, health care practices and hospitals to stop operating in the state, while Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, predicted a mass exodus of doctors, and new doctors unwilling to come to Colorado, which will inadvertently reduce access to affordable care.

“That’s why I believe this bill is not the right approach,” Carver said. “It is almost universal among the doctor community about what will result from this bill — an exodus of doctors without replacement, going to states who do not have this kind of mandatory participation with low reimbursement rates.”

House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, at one point said the problem is too complex for government to solve. “I think that often we as a body and we as a government think we can fix this problem. This is a complicated problem, and I truly, genuinely feel like this problem is too complicated for government to fix,” he said.

Rep. Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, disagreed with that view, saying, “the answer can’t be, ‘this is too hard.'” Bird called House Bill 1232 a good bill and a good step, with more work to do for health care improvements. “If not now, when?” Bird said. “No piece of legislation is perfect, but we need to start somewhere.”

Roberts argued the state can’t wait around for fixes. He said one in four Colorado residents getting health insurance on the individual market are unable to also pay for necessities like food, rent or heat because their medical bills are too high, while 68% of Coloradans without insurance have not gotten any preventative care in the last year, and one in six counties in Colorado have only one insurance option.

“There are constituents in my district, and in every single one of your districts, right now, who are paying unaffordable premiums for themselves, their families or their small businesses,” Roberts told the House before its vote. “And there are people in your districts, right now, who are going without the security of health insurance for themselves, their children and their small business’s employees because the cost is too high. We can do better.”

According to Roberts and other supporters, the bill is not a sweeping overhaul of Colorado’s health care system. Instead, they argue, it is a targeted approach to fix an acute problem of affordability in the individual and small group markets on the exchange, helping more people afford coverage and get care, including an estimated 18,000 people who are going without health insurance now.

“It will deliver lower health care premiums to Coloradans, and it will mean more Coloradans can go to all those incredible doctors and incredible clinics and hospitals and get the care they need. That means more people going to those doctors, more people going to the hospitals, not less,” Roberts said.

Roberts also said significant negotiations to improve the bill took place to end the opposition of major health care industry groups like the Colorado Hospital Association, Colorado Association of Health Plans, Rural Health Alliance, American Academy of Family Physicians, and Children’s Hospital, which are now neutral on the bill.

“That’s why we have worked so hard to get all these organizations to a place where they know this bill can work,” Roberts said. “To say that we are passing a bill that would drive out providers and decrease access to care, that’s laughable. I would take my name off this bill and pull it off the calendar if that were actually the case.”

The measure now heads to the Colorado Senate, where Democrats hold a slimmer majority.

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