Polis signs ‘Colorado Option’ health insurance bill into law on Capitol steps
Insurers will be required to reduce premiums by a total of 15% over three years
Any way you look at it, the “Colorado Option” health insurance bill that Gov. Jared Polis signed Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol in Denver is historic.
The bill creates a first-of-its kind state-regulated health insurance plan for every Coloradan on the individual and small group market that requires private insurance companies reduce premiums by 15% by 2025.
Also a first? The record-breaking amount of money that the industry groups spent lobbying to defeat or weaken the measure championed by Eagle County’s two state lawmakers.
“That fight, it really was the industry trying to protect profits instead of trying to figure out solutions for people,” said Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat who was a primary sponsor of the bill with Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon. “I’m really proud that the Colorado general assembly made the decision that they were there on behalf of their neighbor, not on behalf of C-suite executives.”
The bill signed Wednesday was less far-reaching than its original version, the result of 21 amendments that morphed the legislation from a “public option” that would have required the health care industry to lower costs by 20% or have to compete with a state-offered plan. The new bill works with and regulates private insurers instead of creating a public option.
Despite the concessions to industry groups and Republican lawmakers, no Republican in either house voted for the measure which finally bill passed a final vote in the state House of Representatives on June 7.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, Polis also signed a bill creating a state board that will have the authority to cap the price of prescription drugs that the panel deems too expensive.
“These are more than nibbling around the margins of saving people money on health care,” Polis said, as reported by The Colorado Sun. “We are going to give Coloradans more choice on health care.”
Are we there yet?
Roberts and Donovan both insist that the winding path their health insurance bill took to become law was secondary to its end result. The bill still accomplishes what it set out to do: Lower costs and create more choice on the individual and small group market for Coloradans.
“I would ask anyone of them to call anyone who’s facing some of the highest-cost health care in the country and ask them if a 15% reduction is death by 1,000 cuts,” Donovan said in response to critics of the bill.
“How we ended up there wasn’t as important to me as actually getting there,” Roberts said. “And so what it’s called or how it works is less important to me than what it means for my constituents, because at the end of the day, we’re talking about people who live in Colorado who desperately are asking for a more affordable insurance plan so that they and their families can go to the doctor when they need to. And they can be healthy and they can have that security of health insurance. And I’m very proud of where this bill ended up because it does those things. It’s going to be a 15% less expensive insurance plan.”
Colorado’s Health Care Future, the main industry group lobbying against the bill, released a statement after Wednesday’s signing calling the bill “poorly designed” and stating that it “will not improve access to care.”
“We appreciate the work of some lawmakers to improve the bill — such as by removing ‘public option’ elements,” said Colorado’s Health Care Future spokesman Tyler Mounsey. “Yet the bill’s proponents ignored many serious questions and concerns raised by vested stakeholders, health care professionals and community leaders — from increased costs for patients, to threats to providers’ ability to deliver quality care, to reduced coverage options, and worsening health disparities for communities of color.”
A blueprint for other states
The health care industry spent record sums fighting the bill because the effect it could have on the industry as a whole, both Roberts and Donovan said.
Roberts estimated that as much as $10 million was spent by dark-money groups to kill the bill.
“I hope that other states look at Colorado and consider doing this,” Roberts said. “Given that Washington, D.C., moves very slowly on big things like this, the states are where the reforms can happen. So I think Colorado will be a model.”
“I think Colorado has shown, as a state, that we are known for writing policy that works,” Donovan said. “Health care continues to be top of mind for people, not only in Eagle County, not only on the Western Slope, but in every corner of this country. Especially as we come off the heels of the pandemic.”