Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

The COVID-19 epidemic has blown holes in Colorado’s health care delivery and economy. What’s next can’t just be short-term. Looking out over the horizon, with less money in the state’s coffers, Colorado has big decisions to make.

The arguments over health insurance are certain to become important issues in the 2020 election. The richest country in the world, ours, has the most corona virus infections. These numbers are speculative as virus testing is inadequate in most countries.

Reps. Dylan Roberts and Chris Kennedy offered up HB20-1349 this session for a public health care option to reduce insurance premiums for individuals who self-insure. It’s not Medicare for All and it doesn’t replace employer-offered insurance.

The most important funding leg of this product would come from hospitals. In a committee hearing, Rep. Kennedy said that Colorado’s largest for-profit and nonprofit hospitals earned $2.2 billion in 2019.

The COVID-19 epidemic chopped that leg off. Already hospitals are in a bad 2020 earning position. They’re no longer performing elective surgery, a profit-builder. Many physician medical practices are also experiencing financial strain.

Health insurance provided through employers is threatened as so many businesses are in lay-off mode. Laid-off workers can go to COBRA, an expensive option at best.

Former Vice President Joe Biden excoriated Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for their proposals to move away from employer-supplied health insurance, saying 156 million people, or about half of Americans, love that benefit. Subtract 16 million from that number over last week. Also think about Sen. Cory Gardner’s votes against the Affordable Care Act.

We won’t know if the people in this state would be in better health and financial shape to tolerate this epidemic with universal health care because we don’t have it.

Warren said her Medicare for All plan would cost the federal government $20 trillion over 10 years. The feds are already in for $2 trillion in March for the corona virus stimulus. They will do part 2 stimulus soon enough. A big chunk of those dollars will go to the health care industry. At least with Warren’s program, there’d be a plan that would benefit everyone in a systematic manner.

State Sen. Faith Winter struggled to introduce a family leave bill. She caught grief from many sides, especially the business community who would have to pay a tax or fee along with employees to fund the program. These companies worry about how to pay for family leave and how to manage staffing with employees off work. These are legitimate concerns. But the COVID-19 virus crisis sheds light on why family leave and stronger sick leave benefits could help the state’s economy.

Right now, a Greeley meat plant is experiencing a high number of employees sick with COVID-19. Employees are rightly concerned that their health is at risk. Gov. Jared Polis says the plant is an essential part of our food supply.

So are the heroic employees working in grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, food delivery, etc.. These workers, earning not great salaries, are taking a big risk serving the sheltering-in-place. Add everyone working in the health care system with close proximity to COVID-19 sick patients. Consider that the virus lays people low for at least two weeks, and often much longer.

Now that we all understand the high degree of risk for many workers with the least amount of health care and economic support, isn’t it time to recalibrate our social contract?

Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century English philosopher who believed that monarchy was the only true form of government, posed the social contract this way: the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short and to manage this ravaging state of nature, humanity must adopt absolute authority. John Locke, a bit later than Hobbes, argued that people are by nature free and equal and that a social contract among individuals can sustain a society with rights to life, liberty, and property.

For too many workers right now in Colorado, Locke’s social contract is frayed at best, and leaning Hobbesian. The upcoming budget contest in the state legislature is sure to be nasty and brutal. Over the long term, Locke’s theory of social contract needs revitalization. Are we as a state up to that task?

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.

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