Polis to sign public health insurance bill pushed by Vail Valley lawmakers | VailDaily.com

Polis to sign public health insurance bill pushed by Vail Valley lawmakers

Rep. Dylan Roberts, Sen. Kerry Donovan are two of three sponsors on bill to ease costs

State Sen. Kerry Donovan says finally having a Democratic majority in the Senate finally pushed health care reform bills she has worked on for years over the finish line.
AP file photo

Four facts

  • HB19-1004 was passed this week.
  • Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign the bill.
  • The bill directs the Colorado Division of Insurance and the state Department of Regulatory Affairs to create a system for a public health insurance options.
  • Western Colorado residents have some of the highest health insurance costs in the nation.

A bill to create a public health insurance option for Colorado, co-sponsored by Eagle County’s representatives in the Colorado Legislature, is headed to Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.

The bill, HB19-1004, directs state agencies to recommend a plan to compete with private insurance plans and those offered on Colorado’s health care exchange.

The House approved the legislation by a 45-19 vote late Monday. Polis is expected to sign the measure into law. If Polis signs the bill, this will create the nation’s first-of-its-kind system for a public health insurance option.

The public option legislation directs the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Department of Regulatory Agencies to deliver a proposal in November. The plan would assess costs, funding sources, necessary federal permissions and funding, consumer eligibility and who in government would run the program.

Enrollment could begin in 2020 and a plan, if approved by the federal government, could operate in 2021. Sponsors include Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts and Colorado Sen. Kerry Donovan and Republican Rep. Marc Catlin, who represents Dolores, Montezuma, Montrose and San Miguel counties.

In a Tuesday phone conversation, Roberts noted the bipartisan support for the bill. Catlin, among others, supported the bill in order to provide options for residents who now face some of the nation’s most expensive health insurance bills.

No tax increases

While this bill sets a process for creating the public insurance option, Roberts said the measure won’t require a tax or fee increase. The bill does set in motion several other steps that have to be cleared before a new system takes effect.

Roberts said the measure requires the state agencies to present a plan to legislators by Nov. 15 of this year. If legislators approve the plan, the proposal will be submitted to the federal government and the state will apply for a waiver from some of the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act.

All of that action, plus enabling legislation, could be in place by November of 2020 — the enrollment period for the following year’s coverage. Roberts said policies could take effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

Roberts said the public insurance option would be paid for by a combination of premiums and funds from an “innovation” pool that’s triggered with the federal waiver.

What those premiums will cost remains unknown, but Roberts said he’s optimistic the savings would be significant.

Competitive forces

In addition, Roberts said, there’s only one insurance company, Anthem, offering private insurance on the Western Slope. The prospect of competition for health insurance dollars could drive the market toward lower rates.

Roberts noted that Catlin has more than once said many of constituents don’t have a choice when purchasing individual insurance policies.  

And, Roberts added, whatever comes from the next steps will be compliant with the Affordable Care Act, particularly for coverage of pre-existing conditions.

That compliance was missing when the Vail Valley Partnership last year launched its One Valley Healthcare program. That program, which claims to be able to save participants 50 to 60% on premium costs, doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions.

Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer said the One Valley idea was never meant to serve everyone in the private health insurance market.

Romer said he welcomes the ideas — and competition — the new bill brings to the health insurance landscape.

That landscape has three components, Romer said: providers, insurance companies and government.

“All three played a role in creating the problem we have, and all three need to play a role in fixing it,” Romer said.

“Increased competition should be good for consumer pricing,” Romer added. “It should require private insurance to be more innovative, and force providers to look at pricing.”

Roberts agreed, saying, “the market forces of competition could be a huge force in this.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.