rural health care

A press conference is scheduled at the state Capitol Thursday to roll out a bill creating Colorado's public option insurance plan, potentially the most controversial legislation of the session and the biggest strike on high health care costs delivered by Gov. Jared Polis.

Colorado Politics obtained a draft copy of the bill Tuesday from sources on both sides, with an agreement to hold the bill until it was officially announced.

There are few, if any surprises, however, based on information culled from months of reported negotiations among insurers, hospitals, drugmakers and patient advocates. Colorado Politics profiles in depth the potential impacts in a cover story, citing dozens of interviews and documents, in our print magazine for subscribers this weekend and online next week.

The public option would be a public-private insurance policy that offers below-current-market rates supported by price caps and other measures aimed at reducing costs for insurers and consumers. Hospitals and drugmakers would bear the brunt in reducing those prices. Polis and others advocates for lower heath care costs contend the industry has profited mightily without regulated competition in what they choose to charge those with private insurance.

In 22 of Colorado's 64 counties, there is only one insurer, meaning customers are forced to pay what the companies choose to charge.

The health care industry, however, said the profit numbers are misleading and don't take into account uncompensated care, as well as investments in staffing, facilities and community services — investments that will be endangered by government meddling.

Tipping that balance also could make health care less accessible, especially in rural areas already strapped for services, they will argue.

Legislators have until the end of the legislative session, May 6, to deliver a finished product to Polis, who is eager to launch the program that has failed or struggled in other states.

If the bill passes this year — it should, with the Democratic majorities and Polis behind it — it will take a year to set up, and Coloradans could buy in in open enrollment in 2021 for policies that take effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Advocates announced the press conference for the proposed bill Wednesday morning, featuring the legislation's Democratic sponsors and the option's chief architects, Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon and Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail.

An initial proposal for the program came out in November, raising the rankles of well-financed interests who aim to oppose it.

“We’re not accepting that whole-cloth," Roberts told Colorado Politics in an interview last month. "We’ve been working very closely over the last several months to craft something that works for as many people as possible, as many interests as possible.

“What we’re about to release is not going to look like the proposal, but the reason why it hasn't come out yet is because we do want to take our time and talk to everybody that will be impacted. For them to tell us to slow down is, frankly, ridiculous, because that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Opponents of the bill also presented Colorado Politics with a draft and a list of reasons they'll oppose the finished product when it reaches committee hearings in the coming weeks.

They note that it could force hospitals to accept the cut-rate insurance, face costly penalties or potentially lose their license to operate in Colorado.

The power is bestowed to the state insurance commissioner, "a non-elected government official," equating it to a "power grab" by the government, according to a set of talking points against the bill.

Opponents also disagreed with Roberts' assessment of the finished product, contending it was crafted politically before a thorough analysis was performed.

"The draft bill resembles the final draft proposal which was released with an actuarially analysis for public stakeholder review and comments before being presented to the legislature earlier this year," they allege.

 The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative sent out a media advisory Wednesday morning announcing the Thursday press press conference.

"Colorado hospitals are making billions of dollars in profit every year," it stated. "By controlling outrageous hospital charges and holding insurers to higher standards, the Colorado Health Insurance Option will reduce costs to consumers. The Colorado Option will compete in the individual insurance market and will provide another plan that consumers can choose.

"The bill uses existing state infrastructure to lower costs and continue to offer coverage through private insurance companies. Individuals would still pay premiums to an insurance company but at a lower cost."

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