Rep. Dylan Roberts eager for a second term at Colorado statehouse
Running unopposed, Roberts outlines plans to deliver solutions on health care costs, housing and financial relief
There are now eight states with monthly caps on the amount of money a diabetes patient must spend on insulin.
It started with Colorado and with State Rep. Dylan Roberts. The Democratic representative, whose district consists of Eagle and Routt counties, was the driving force behind the passage of the bill, signed into law in 2019.
It’s not a coincidence. Roberts’ younger brother Murphy died in 2016 from a fall caused by a diabetic seizure.
“My brother was always fortunate to have his insulin,” Roberts said. “But growing up in a family with a type 1 diabetic made me cognizant of the struggle to afford medication that people need to survive.
“… It’s not the only reason I ran for office, but it definitely inspired me.”
And having completed his first full two-year term — he was appointed in 2017 to replace Diane Mitsch Bush, who was running for the 3rd Congressional District the first time — Roberts is running unopposed for reelection in District 26 with the intent of delivering a public option for health care, solving housing issues and helping Colorado out of a recession.
While some of the motivation for working on health care issues comes from his life experience, Roberts also knows they dominate his district.
It’s not breaking news, but paying for health insurance outside of its connection to steady employment is an expensive prospect all over the High Country, especially when locals work different jobs in varying seasons.
Add in that Eagle and Routt counties are two of only 10 counties in Colorado to have just one insurance provider (Anthem) on their respective public exchanges. More companies on the exchanges in the two counties, he believes, would encourage competition and lower premium prices for constituents.
To get there, Roberts wants the insurance companies to reduce the amount of money they take from premiums for administrative overhead on salaries and marketing as well and apply that to the actual costs of health care. He also hopes to reform the way pharmaceutical companies increase prices for their products. And, third, he’s looking for ways to cut the costs of hospital stays.
At the beginning of the 2019 legislative session, Roberts and some fellow legislators put together a framework, including the aforementioned proposals, for a public option in Colorado. The report passed its first committee in February 2020 and then the state house adjourned for the first week of March, which was followed by the entrance of the coronavirus to American life.
While COVID-19 has heightened awareness of the need for affordable health care, it has also changed the financial picture going forward.
To be clear, Roberts is a proponent of a public option — not the single-payer system. While the public option, as opposed to single-payer, would keep the emphasis on private insurance and not require a funding overhaul of the entire system, it would still require some start-up costs at a time when revenues are scarce.
Since Colorado requires a balanced budget and a public vote under the TABOR Amendment to increase taxes, also a politically unpalatable prospect particularly in rough economic times, this legislation will be rewritten.
“The world has changed since then, and we have gone back to the drawing board,” Roberts said. “But we’re going to continue to work on this. Here in mountain communities, health care is way too expensive. The way to lower prices is to increase choice.”
Roberts knows that the lifeblood of Eagle and Routt counties is tourism. He grew up in Steamboat Springs. After attending Boston College and law school at the University of Colorado Boulder, he lives with his fiancée, Sarah, in Avon in Eagle County, where he is a deputy district attorney,
With an eye toward the upcoming winter, Roberts said, “We have been advocating a science-based approach to the ski industry. Any decisions that are made should be made in consultation with the people on the ground and not just those in Denver. We hope to have a regional approach. If there is an outbreak (of COVID-19) in Telluride, we shouldn’t shut down Vail. If there’s something going on in Summit, we shouldn’t shut down Steamboat.”
Along those lines, Roberts was a sponsor of a bill easing interest payments on property taxes during the pandemic as well as legislation allowing restaurants to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.
Be it for regular residents or seasonal workers, Roberts is also working on housing. As with health care issues, Roberts must work within the confines of a balanced budget to find funding but was successful during the 2019 session in transferring $30 million from an unclaimed property trust fund to a housing development grant fund. The $30 million will be allocated to projects through the 2022-23 fiscal year.
The road ahead
While attending college, Roberts was active politically, starting a campaign field office on the Western Slope for then Democratic-nominee Barack Obama during the 2008 election. (Roberts took a semester off from Boston College at the time.)
Not only did that inspire him to seek office eventually, but it helped him make a name for himself in politics.
Not surprisingly, the Biden-Harris ticket endorsed Roberts’ campaign on Oct. 11. While flattered, Roberts is keeping his focus on his district, knowing well that while he is running unopposed, Republicans make up a good portion of his constituency.
In the 2016 presidential election, 35% of Eagle County voters opted for President Donald Trump, while that number was 37% in Routt.
Before COVID-19 hit, Roberts held town hall meetings across the district and those have continued on video since.
“I think going into my second (full) term, I am looking forward to doing a different job now. Before COVID times were times of budget surplus. Now, we have to get Colorado out of a health and economic crisis as quickly as possible. One of the ways is meeting with the people and I’ve had 36 meetings in the district. We’ve taken them virtual now. I want to make sure I’m available to my constituents by meeting, call or email,” he said. “Legislation I’ve sponsored has been 98% bipartisan and that is important to me because I know my district is not solidly blue. I want to represent my entire district, not just those who voted for me.”