Lincoln Community Hospital and Care Center

Lincoln Community Hospital and Care Center in Hugo is the only medical facility for Eastern Plains residents in a 75-mile radius.

I have the attention span of a 3-year-old on Red Bull. 

At any given moment, I've got five things going. I work on one thing until I lose interest, which takes about 10 minutes, and then jump onto something else, and so it goes all day long. It works out great if I keep everything moving toward a finish line. At the end of the day I've got five things done.

The Colorado General Assembly works much the same way: a hundred legislators juggle hundreds of bills until the political dust settles four months later — your tax dollars at work and play.

Joey Bunch: "While policymakers and the private sector sort out the debris of the global coronavirus tragedy, the mental health of many will factor heavily into the losses, as certainly as a washed-out bridge in a flood."

A crisis, however, is the best time to focus on what matters most.

COVID-19 should put health care at the top of the heap. Those fortunate to survive the virus face a lifetime of related ills, from a weakened heart muscle to Alzheimer's disease to a lifetime of chronic fatigue. If the system was overburdened before, it could be crushed by what's to come.

The long waits for help you might have fretted under socialized medicine seem on their way regardless.

The problems are deeper than the price of a policy, however. This past week, my Colorado Politics colleagues and I fanned out to talk to Coloradans affected specifically and personally by aspects of the outbreak for a magazine cover story called Faces of Relief.

On issue after issue, people shared their worries about the impact on mental health in the workplace, in schools, in prisons and in housing.

"Simply surviving this experience can make a person more likely to later develop post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety," warns the Mayo Clinic.

Lawmakers have been urged for years to do more on mental health, and many in breach are counting on them to come through this year.

It was just last May that Gov. Jared Polis vetoed a bipartisan House Bill 1086 that would have required Colorado insurers to cover annual mental health wellness exams. He also vetoed a bill on covering opioid addiction prevention, as an epidemic rages there, as well. 

Polis said he'd wouldn't sign any more bills mandating coverages without seeing a formal analysis of how it would affect insurance prices, which he's vowed to lower. 

That puts us back on the doorstep of the public option insurance plan, a government-backed policy built on hospital rate formulas — read: price setting — and a lot of unanswered questions.

Democrats dropped the public option proposal last year, a few days before the General Assembly recessed for the pandemic and the legislation was set aside. State Sen. Kerry Donovan, the public option's sponsor last year and a newly announced candidate for Congress, told me recently she plans to bring it back when General Assembly reconvenes.

The option was projected to reduce rates in some parts of the state as much as 20% with a below-market policy that forces insurers to compete with it.

At the same time, though, rural hospitals are sweating what happens next. I was talking on the phone with Kevin Stansbury, who runs Lincoln Community Hospital and Care Center in Hugo.

Kevin operates the only hospital, emergency room, nursing home and three primary care clinics in a 75-mile radius on the Eastern Plains.

When he listens for the next shoe to drop, he expects it to land at the state Capitol.

"While we continue to face a daunting public health crisis, lawmakers should listen to health care and business leaders on the front lines to focus on strengthening and stabilizing our health care system, so all Coloradans can access the care they need — not create an untested public option that we cannot afford," Debbie Brown, president of the Colorado Business Roundtable, told the legislature's Joint Budget Committee last week.

Next week, Denver's Common Sense Institute, one of my go-to think tanks, is releasing an analysis of current and proposed health care measures. I got hold of some of their data a little early, and I look forward to reading it in full. 

The picture isn't nearly as grim as I'd heard:

  • Colorado has the second-lowest annual average premium growth in the country over the last five years.
  • Colorado has the third-lowest average monthly benchmark premium in the U.S. for 2021 at $340 (the second-lowest is $339).
  • Colorado has improved from the 27th lowest average premium in the country in 2019 to the third-lowest in the last two years.

It seems easy enough to set the public option aside at least a year.

"It’s unavoidable for people to think this way," Donovan, the Democratic political star from Vail, wrote in a Denver Post op-ed on Dec. 26. "But what we can’t afford to do is govern this way."

It's not just about making insurance more affordable but more available as well, by helping people get covered. That matters in the age of the pandemic, she wrote.

Yet so does mental health.

This week, the Brighton City Council legalized "no more or less than two (2) goats per property" on a 9-0 vote.

The government doesn't want goats to get lonely — seriously, that's the reason why the city makes you have two or none at all. Does our state government care that people are lonely?

When the next session gavels out, we'll know the answer to that.

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