Since the pandemic started, our state’s unemployment system has been a disaster. At the very time that unemployed Coloradans most needed the state government to show basic competency, it failed them.
One Colorado Public Radio report even called what these people went through “unemployment purgatory” — where some Coloradans “have waited months for help with unemployment benefits due to mistakes, glitches and confusion.”
Last year, the average wait time to talk to someone at the Department of Labor and Employment was over 40 days. These were people who were just trying to survive after losing their jobs — and never should have been put on hold for almost six weeks.
One big problem was that the state had been using 40-year-old software — and before the pandemic started, the department only had one programmer for it. Even after the state updated its system this year, the waits have continued to be long, and fraud has continued to be rampant.
To put it in perspective, there have been more fraud claims for unemployment benefits than legitimate ones. Over 1 million Coloradans (including me) have had a fraudulent unemployment claim made with their stolen information. A lot of these attempts have been stopped, but far too many have been paid out to the scammers.
Despite these blatant failures in our unemployment system, government officials still want more control — this time in the health care realm. Fresh off of helping save countless lives during the pandemic, hospitals and health care providers are the new targets for Colorado legislators in a bill currently being debated at the Capitol.
The Common Sense Institute projects that if implemented, this bill would cut payments to doctors, nurses, hospitals and other health care providers by $830 million to $1 billion by 2024. This could lead to the loss of 3,900 to 4,900 health care jobs. And if this 20% price cut doesn’t happen, the government will then create a “public option.”
This public option is government-run insurance, where health care providers are mandated to participate — or they risk losing their license. Recently, Washington state enacted a public option, but instead of seeing premiums go down, they went up 15%.
This is because a public option just leads to price fixing and cost shifting. Either we pay more, or health care providers face cuts and layoffs. In a state where our rural hospitals are barely getting by already, adding a public option could mean some of them close permanently.
On top of that, a public option could push current health insurers out. This would mean that even if you like your current plan, you might not be able to keep it.
We all want to lower health care costs, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do that. Instead of piling on more regulations and mandates with a public option, we need to eliminate unnecessary mandates that are preventing more true competition in health insurance markets across the state.
Especially this last year, health care providers went above and beyond to save lives and keep people healthy. Legislators should listen to them.
And if the state government can’t even run our unemployment insurance program, why would we entrust them with our health care system?
Michael Fields is the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action.