health care workers

Healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment while caring for patients with the novel coronavirus infection on March 10, 2020.

The fight over House Bill 1232, the so-called public option bill, has been waged in newspapers and TV ads over the past several months, and Friday, the fight heads inside the state Capitol as the bill goes before the House Health & Insurance Committee for its first hearing, scheduled for noon.

To listen to the hearing, click here.

There was a flurry of activity prior to the hearing’s start, most notably:

  • an opinion piece ran in the Colorado Springs Gazette from two union leaders who oppose the bill, which is a sign of trouble for Democratic lawmakers with strong union ties;
  • the Colorado Medical Society, Colorado Hospital Association and the Colorado Association of Health Plans, issued a statement that they are united in their opposition to the bill, and
  • The announcements of changes to the Health & Insurance Committee itself.

The committee got several temporary members for Friday’s hearing: Reps. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins, and Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, the House co-sponsor of HB 1232, replaced Reps. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, and Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora.

And because he felt the bill was that important, House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, also plans to be on the committee, although who he’s replacing is not yet known. Members of leadership rarely participate in committees of reference.

The opposition from Pipefitters Local 208, Plumbers Local 3 and the Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association, as contained in the Friday op-ed in the Gazette, centered on concerns about less choice, higher costs and longer waits for health care services.

Pipefitters Local 208 has been a strong supporter of Democrats, with nearly $500,000 in donations to the state party and to Democratic candidates in the past decade, primarily to those running for the General Assembly. Plumbers Local 3 has been a smaller player, with $95,000 in donations to Democratic candidates in the past decade.

Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors has made more than $67,000 in contributions in the past decade to General Assembly candidates from both parties and to other political issues.

The statement from the health insurance industry — doctors, insurers and hospitals — said that despite months of working in good-faith negotiations to find a workable solution, the three groups were unable to reach consensus with legislators and the Polis administration prior to Friday’s hearing.

“Our hospitals have been proud to care for  Colorado  throughout the pandemic, and now we need help to fight cuts to hospitals and providers that will hurt our communities,” said Chris Tholen, CEO and president of the Colorado Hospital Association.

Bryan Campbell, CEO of the Colorado Medical Society, said the proposal would “impact the ability of each of them to provide great patient care, especially in rural and underserved areas. It will also discourage new physicians from coming to Colorado and restrict access to high quality care.”

Amanda Massey, executive director of the Colorado Association of Health Plans, said the bill “ignores the progress being achieved in order to establish a government-run health insurance authority that relies on taxpayer dollars and doesn't play by the same rules. Coloradans want common-sense solutions in health care – not a foundation for a single-payer health care system that will reduce quality and eliminate choice of doctors, hospitals and health plans."

On the other side, Good Business Colorado, which along with the Small Business Majority has 5,500 small business members, sent out a list of about 40 businesses that support HB 1232. Their statement pointed to a 2020 Colorado Health Institute report that said 75% of small businesses cannot afford health insurance for their employees.

“Access to affordable, comprehensive coverage is out of reach for many small businesses, which also makes it difficult for them to attract and retain talented employees,” the Good Business statement said. “This has become even more of a challenge during the pandemic as small businesses faced unexpected and unprecedented financial setbacks.

"Our healthcare market is broken - with unaffordable premiums that continue to rise and a lack of competition in many communities across our state, and this is putting our small businesses in a bind.”

The statement asked that lawmakers support four provisions in the bill: the 20% reduction in premium costs; include the small group market; ensure that people across the state can get the care they need in the communities where they live, and establish a state Authority to manage the Colorado Health Insurance Option if insurance carriers cannot meet the 20% reduction target.

The statement also took direct aim at the hospital industry, noting an oft-repeated claim that Colorado hospitals are among the most profitable in the country. But “that profit cannot be made at the expense of the small businesses that are the foundation of our economy,” Good Business officials said.

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