Tipton: State innovation leading the way on health insurance
Health insurance open enrollment is around the corner. For many families, the one thought on their minds is: What plan offers the best coverage for the best price? For others, especially those living in my district, there is no sorting through plans; rather, only deciding whether the price tag on the one option available is doable.
Earlier this month, we learned health insurance prices across Colorado next year are expected to drop nearly 18 percent. This is welcome news, considering that families have faced years of uncertainty when it comes to choosing their health insurance plans. In the nine years since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance prices have skyrocketed by an average of 42 percent. While any price decrease is a step in the right direction, there are still other reforms needed to bring premiums into reach for many Coloradans.
Lower premiums can be largely attributed to the state’s reinsurance program, which required a State Innovation Waiver from the federal government. Earlier this year, I joined with other members in the Colorado delegation to support the state’s request for the waiver so it could establish the reinsurance program. I welcomed the news that the waiver was granted, allowing the state to offset the costs of high-priced insurance premiums. If we have learned anything from the failures of the ACA, it’s that giving states greater flexibility when it comes to health insurance policy will lead to more affordable options for residents.
The reinsurance program is only one solution in addressing the many problems with the current health care system. A lack of access to competitive plans in Colorado’s rural counties will continue to drive up costs for rural residents.
Next year there will be 22 counties across Colorado, most of them in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, with only one health insurance provider. That is a troubling figure considering last year there were 14 counties that faced this dilemma. The federal regulations in place continue to make it nearly impossible for providers to enter new rural markets, limiting competition and thus increasing prices.
Throughout my time traveling the district and meeting with leaders in the health care industry, I have seen promising signs that there is significant progress being made without the government mandating the changes. In rural areas, we have seen models like the Peak Health Alliance’s community purchasing model improve decrease costs and improve access to care. Through this model, smaller communities can band together to seek the best rates. It is similar to the model that has allowed electrical co-ops in rural areas to provide low-cost and reliable energy in rural areas, where the profit margin isn’t attractive to larger utility companies. Innovation and competition are critical to driving down costs and increasing access to care, and these initiatives should be driven at the state and local levels.
The innovation we are seeing at the state level is encouraging, however, there are now some people who would like to see the federal government take complete control of the health care system through plans described as “Medicare-for-all” or “single-payer.” These ideas, if implemented, would ultimately hand back the decision-making to the federal government, re-establishing the one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme that has forced families off their plans, and do nothing to offset the price increases. I have heard from many of the rural health care providers I have visited that this model would force them to close their doors. Plus, Coloradans already decided that a single-payer system isn’t for them, defeating Amendment 69 in 2016 by a margin of 78 to 21 percent.
I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress on reforms that improve access to high-quality health care. In modern America, there is no reason that families should have to worry about the costs of health care or whether their plan will even exist the following year. After nine years of a federal system that has driven down access and increased costs, I am glad to see progress made to reverse that trend, though we have a long, long way to go before rates are truly viable.
U.S. Rep Scott R. Tipton represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. His Washington, D.C., office can be reached at 202-225-4761.
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