Donovan, Roberts: The path to a Colorado health care option
When a community faces a difficult problem like a health pandemic, it can illuminate society’s challenges and gaps. One of those challenges is that far too many Coloradans lack access to affordable health care, especially in Eagle County. Talking about the gaps and challenges of our health care system is not new territory for us — Eagle County residents have some of the highest prices in the individual market of anywhere in the country.
We have been working for several years at the state Capitol to lower health care costs and have had success — reinsurance, capping insulin costs, health insurance co-ops, hospital price transparency, and more — but our big, multi-year effort led to our bill for a Colorado Affordable Health Care Option, legislation that would bring Coloradans a new and affordable health insurance option, was introduced at the legislature in March.
After a multi-year legislative process, months of direct meetings with stakeholders, and countless hours of bill drafting and amending, the bill had its first hearing in the same week as the first cases of the coronavirus were confirmed here in our mountain communities. This was an unwelcome coincidence that saw the very people struggling to afford health care be the first ones hit by a life-threatening pandemic.
Eagle County residents have some of the least access to affordable health care options in the state, with sometimes only one health care plan to choose from and some of the highest premiums in the nation. Approximately 16.9% of Eagle County residents are uninsured, a staggering statistic compared to the 6.5% of uninsured statewide. The purpose of the Colorado Option bill is to bring competition to these underserved counties in order to reduce premium costs and provide choice so that all Coloradans have access to affordable health care.
As the country nears 20% unemployment, counties here in the High Country near 50% unemployment due to the coronavirus. In this time of sweeping unemployment, we are starkly reminded that employment is more than a job; it is many people’s connection to the security of health insurance for themselves and their families.
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52% of Coloradans’ access to health care is dependent upon having a job. Consider these numbers in the midst of a healthcare national emergency: it’s hard to argue that our health care system isn’t designed to fail many of our friends and neighbors.
We are proud of the bipartisan legislation that initiated the Colorado Option and we were hopeful that the engagement with hospitals, insurers, doctors, nurses, patients, business owners, and so many others — not to mention our constituents who are overly-burdened with health insurance costs — would guide that bill through the House and the Senate and to the governor’s desk this year. Then, on March 14, for the safety of the public, staff, and our colleagues, the Colorado General Assembly adjourned, putting the Colorado Option on hold.
While we will be returning the legislature on May 18, this pandemic still continues. With that, we have reached the difficult decision of withdrawing the Colorado Option from the remainder of this year’s session in order to ensure that those whom the bill is meant to serve and those it will impact can be robustly involved in the process. Nothing about this decision means our resolve to ensure every Coloradan has access to affordable health care has weakened. However, we must responsibly move forward and respect the life-saving work our health care community is doing right now.
We believe that the Colorado Option is the right policy and will help people across Colorado by increasing access to affordable health care. We also believe that a critical stakeholder group — our nurses, pharmacists, EMTs, doctors, and hospital staff — cannot participate in a policy process while they are responding to this worldwide emergency. A successful Colorado Option needs the input of our frontline workers and right now they need to focus on taking care of patients and themselves.
We will continue to not only work on the Colorado Option throughout the coming months, but also fight to ensure the health care industry focuses on people, not profits, in the future. We look forward to safely gathering around meeting tables with all stakeholders to make this policy work for Colorado and address the gap COVID-19 has illuminated.
Eagle County and our state will have a Colorado Option soon, one that increases access to affordable health care for all Coloradans. But now is not the right time to debate this legislation. In the meantime, be kind and take care of you and yours.
Rep. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kerry Donovan are residents of Eagle County and serve in the Colorado General Assembly. Their respective districts include Eagle County, among other counties.