Donovan, Roberts: A path to more affordable health care

Kerry Donovan and Dylan Roberts
Valley Voices

On Friday, we marked one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Colorado. In Eagle County alone, so far, over 5,000 people contracted the virus and 21 individuals have died from it. As we take time to grieve lives lost and sacrifices made, it is also important that we reflect on the inequities that this pandemic threw into light.

For everyone in Eagle County who had sick family members, were hospitalized themselves, struggled with new or worsening mental illness, or paused vital preventative care, the slow-rolling crisis of prohibitively expensive health care has become personal. We have reached an inflection point. The time to act is now.

Colorado has some of the highest health insurance costs in the nation and many parts of our state, including Eagle County, have little-to-no choice on the individual market. Eighty-nine percent of uninsured Coloradans say price is the reason they lack insurance and 1 in 6 Colorado counties only have one plan on the individual market.

According to the 2019 Colorado Health Access Survey, mountain regions have the highest uninsured rates in the state. In 2019, Eagle County had an uninsured rate of 14.3% — 5.1 points worse than the national average. With the onset of the pandemic and the subsequent job loss, those numbers have gotten worse.

That is unacceptable. As legislators, our constituents depend on us to find solutions even if it looks impossible. It’s our job to come to the table with bold ideas, and that is why we will soon introduce a bill at the Capitol to lower health insurance costs and increase access to care.

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Last year, as the pandemic swept through the country, we decided not to pursue a bill creating a new public option for health care. This year, we are asking the health care industry to meet us halfway. This bill gives the free market the next two and half years to lower costs on the individual market, aiming for a 20% reduction in monthly premiums by the end of 2024. If the industry can meet the reduction goal, then we will all benefit from lower cost insurance plans available in every county. But if they cannot or will not meet that goal, the state will then offer the Colorado Option: an insurance plan for the individual and small-group market available in every county at an affordable price for those who choose to buy it.

This two-phased approach takes the industry at their word; allowing them time to recover from COVID and to work collaboratively to save Coloradans money on their health care. But it also guarantees that if they cannot or will not do it on their own, the state will ensure a new, affordable health insurance option becomes available without further delay.

In both cases, Coloradans win — all those who need care will be able to access it and those who like their current coverage can stay on it. Increased affordability, covered essential health benefits, and affordable deductibles will be available to everyone. The bill also addresses disparities that are tied to race, income, disability, or location. Further, the plan will bolster small hospitals who are doing vital work for little-to-no profit. And importantly, this will all be done without raising taxes.

Those who are happy with their current insurance do not need to buy this new plan. But they will still reap the benefits — studies show that a public option will lower premiums across our state by 9-18% for everyone; competition is a good thing.

It’s no surprise that national special interest groups have dumped dark money into fighting this bill. Your screens are already being bombarded by a multi-million-dollar ad campaign that spreads misinformation. Don’t fall for it. This negative campaign is bankrolled by big out-of-state corporations that are protecting the status quo: a system that reaps massive profits for executives but has left too many of our neighbors without adequate or affordable health care.

So many people have come to the virtual table to debate and discuss this proposal and we are grateful for their voices. We are confident that making Coloradans healthier and saving them money is something we can all get behind.

In Colorado, we do not shy away from tackling our biggest challenges and we know that there’s no problem we cannot solve when we do it together. Let’s get to work.

Rep. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kerry Donovan represent Eagle County in the Colorado General Assembly.

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