As a board-certified interventional cardiologist with experience treating everything from artery disease to irregular heartbeats, I am familiar with the challenges of our health care system and am very excited that Colorado is getting a health insurance option that tackles costs and health inequities.
I swore an oath to serve my patients. We need to do right by them, their families, and our communities — especially communities of color. That is why I supported the Colorado Health Insurance Option (HB21-1232) during this past legislative session.
Every day, I see patients with private health insurance struggle getting the care they need and deserve. This is not anecdotal. More than 43% of Black Coloradans and 34.3% of Latinx Coloradans with insurance report trouble paying for necessities like food, rent, and heat because of their medical bills.
Others say they will only get care when they can declare bankruptcy. I don’t say that glibly. It’s what I hear from my patients and is a real concern for so many others across Colorado. An affordable health insurance option, like The Colorado Option, will be life-changing for these patients.
According to the Colorado Health Institute, nearly one in five Black and Latinx Coloradans (18%) with private insurance struggle to pay medical bills compared to 13.7 percent of white Coloradans.
Health insurance companies are the gatekeeper between consumers and their care. They exercise control over every health care decision, often keeping my patients from getting preventative care that could save the entire system money in the long run.
For example, I prescribed a drug for one of my patients who lived in Meeker, but when they went to pick it up they couldn’t get it. Days went by as my office went back and forth with the pharmacy and the insurance company. Meanwhile, my patient suffered a heart attack and had to be flown to intensive care for treatment. This is just one example of the way the status quo hurts patients and increases the cost of health care. This outcome could have been prevented.
The Colorado Option goes a long way toward fixing what’s broken in our health care system and puts patients first by addressing the key barriers to care.
The Colorado Option will streamline health benefits across insurance plans, reduce out-of-pocket costs by prioritizing high-value, pre-deductible services, and bring the process of purchasing insurance out of the shadows by making plan prices transparent and comparable. Notably, it will include services specifically tailored at addressing racial and historical health inequities.
Come 2023, Coloradans buying their own insurance and small businesses with 99 employees or fewer will have a new health insurance option to purchase that will be 15% cheaper by 2025.
These reforms finally hold the health-care industry accountable for the services they provide and the costs they charge. By addressing the root causes of rising health care costs, we can expand access to care for people when they need it.
Left to its own devices, the health-care industry will not change. With The Colorado Option, we will reform the system, change the incentives that are driving costs, and prioritize patients over profits.
For my patients, the cost of health care is not trivial, it’s a matter of life and death. I am proud that I live and treat patients in a state that is striving to improve access and decrease barriers to health care. I applaud all of the state and local leaders who worked tirelessly to pass The Colorado Health Insurance Option. Knowing my patients have leaders standing up for their well-being and are willing to take unpopular steps to make our health care system better makes my job a little easier.
Qaisar Khan, M.D., is a member of Healthier Colorado and an interventional cardiologist in Westminster who treats patients all over the state.