Grimmer: Support for a public option
In 2019, corporate businesses spent nearly $3.5 billion lobbying the federal government, led by the “Health” industry, which accounted for $594 million of the total, according to opensecrets.org. These massive sums of money are not allocated with the interest of real people in mind, nor are they earmarked in an effort to improve the quality of health care.
Instead, they are used in an elaborate disinformation campaign, well summarized by former Humana Executive Wendell Potter in a column for the Vail Daily titled “Why insurers are scared of a public option,” in order to bolster corporate revenues. It is the primary goal of all corporations to maximize shareholder wealth. By investing millions in shaping health policy and swaying public opinion, corporations use a backdoor to tip the fiscal scales in their favor.
The trouble is that these massive investments are self-serving, have a disastrous impact on our health care system as a whole, and lead to real people suffering. Consider that in 1970, the United States spent $353 per person/year (in 2019 dollars) on health care, while in 2019 we spent $11,582. Meanwhile, the United States is currently the biggest spender on health care (as a share of GDP) but our life expectancy (77.8 years in 2020) is well-below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average and ranks 26th in the world. So where is all this money going and why does our health care system so severely under-perform other countries? It’s a Gordian Knot that is best solved on a local level.
Chris Romer’s recent Vail Daily column, “Public option not the pragmatic answer to our health insurance challenges,” is just the latest in a coordinated and expensive campaign to preserve enormous profits for corporate executives, including those at Vail Health and Vail Resorts, both of which are represented on the Board of Directors of the Vail Valley Partnership. Romer beguiles the reader by suggesting that his organization is not partisan, which most will recognize as the prelude to a contested political statement. He then goes on to explain why a public option isn’t the pragmatic solution in mountain towns when it comes to lowering costs. When was the last time you heard a supposedly pro-business leader reject competition? What are we missing here?
There are two big problems. The first is that his position is good for large corporate businesses but bad for small local businesses. So, he is stuck having to prioritize the more powerful members in his organization.
At odds with local entrepreneurs, the preservation of our corroded private health system will cost small business owners in Eagle county millions each year in lost profits. In fact, according to the Commonwealth Fund, which works to “promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable,“ the No. 1 concern for small business owners is the “rising cost of health care.” The second problem is that mountain towns are filled with people who know each other, are accountable to each other, and don’t prioritize massive corporate wealth.
What is the public option?
Besides the fact that House Bill 1232 is being bravely led at the state Capitol by Eagle County residents Dylan Roberts and Kerry Donovan in response to overwhelming concerns from citizens, it is asking for some very reasonable changes to our very broken model.
It says that if a community only has one private provider (think: monopoly), that the provider must reduce the costs to the patient by 2024 or a public option will be added to compete in that market. There are 22 counties, mostly in rural parts of Colorado, that currently have only one provider.
If anything, 2024 seems like a pretty casual time frame, especially when families are currently using gofundme.com to scrape the money (donations from friends) they need for medical care. The bill allows the current private providers a two-year head start on developing more efficient practices.
The only way the private side could possibly lose here is if it lacks the innovation to solve problems, or lacks the motivation. With premiums through the roof and all-time high deductibles, it is no mystery why private health care companies are in no hurry to reform.
The bill also says that from 2025 forward, insurance companies cannot raise the price of annual premiums by more than the Consumer Price Index, a standard used in determining cost increases in many other sectors of society. Finally, it says that this bill would be rendered moot if and when the federal government finally enacts a public option for the whole country.
Romer states that HB 1232 isn’t pragmatic for local economies, but what he omits is that the health of an economy is not the same as the health of financial institutions and executives of large insurance companies living (either permanently or in second homes) in that economy. Bottom line, if 78% of small business owners support a public option, as is outlined in this article, it makes sense for business advocates like the Vail Valley Partnership and other local chambers of commerce to at least wait a few weeks to see how the bill proceeds through the legislature before wholly rejecting it.
This bill will be good for more than just small business owners. It will allow employees to worry less about their lower hierarchical needs and focus on being more productive at work and more adventurous outside of work. In the mountains, that means going skiing or biking without fear of paying a $4,000- $10,000 deductible. It means exploring more and chasing the highest possible quality of life, all of which correlates to work satisfaction and a stronger connection with the mission of their management. It is surprising that the board of the VVP does not see this.
What can you do?
Get informed on the bill by reading it on the state assembly website. Watch it move from “introduced” to “passed” and communicate your support and other ideas and perspectives you have personally experienced. Write a letter that outlines your challenges with this rotten system so that your representatives are empowered and emboldened to fight the good fight against a massive PR machine (from Washington DC). Avoid the misinformation that you will be bombarded with by corporate media channels, and discuss your own experience with friends and neighbors.
Encourage your place of employment to explore the details of this bill and add its name to the public and private organizations that support its passing. Explain to management how they will see higher care and reduced costs for their employees and ask them to contact their Senate and House representatives with positive messages of encouragement.
We learned during the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment this past November that when small businesses get behind state bills they tend to fare much better. Passing HB 1232 will only happen if business leaders are open to the idea that we will be better with a public option for Colorado.
Geoff Grimmer is a resident of Eagle and a graduate of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota with a degree in corporate finance.