Medical Care

When it comes to health care, we can all applaud the efforts of our elected officials to improve access and affordability. Unfortunately, a recent proposal misses the mark and puts both the quality of our health care system and access to care at risk.

On October 8, Gov. Jared Polis's administration unveiled a new plan for changing Colorado’s health care sector. The plan would create a so-called public option – a state-run insurance program – that offers the promise of lower premiums. Details of the plan can be found at Proposal for Affordable Health Coverage Option

The plan proposes government rate setting – mandating significantly lower reimbursement rates paid to hospitals, which would be far below what commercial insurance carriers pay. These rates may be below the actual cost of providing care. When those reimbursement rates fail to cover the cost of providing care, hospitals will be forced to make budget cuts. Those cuts will directly impact the number of doctors, nurses, technicians and other staff who are available to serve patients in their hour of need.

The full impact of the proposed plan are unclear, even to its authors, “The assumptions and resulting estimates included in this report and produced by the modeling are inherently uncertain,” the Oct. 7 report warns. “The uncertainty is amplified given that in most instances Colorado specific data was not available.”

Policymakers involved in the design and review of the proposed state option may wish to ask themselves: After a decade of upheaval in national and state health care markets, is another major disruption what the Colorado health care sector needs right now?” said Kristin Strohm, President and CEO of Common Sense Policy Roundtable.

Strohm’s point is especially important to remember when debating health care policy in Colorado as the state’s health care system is performing much better than many others across the country. For example, Colorado has the fifth lowest health spending per capita in the nation, despite our rising cost of living. In terms of quality, Colorado consistently ranks as one of the top states in the country and the state is a center of innovation and excellence, with several of the nation’s best hospitals located here.

After hearing of the plan, Debra Irvine, a Summit County resident commented, “A public option doesn’t guarantee better or more accessible care… When I hear public option, I think of the Department of Veterans Affairs and its decades of problems. The VA’s problems have been identified: lack of prompt and effective care, accountability, etc. Is this what we want for all Coloradans?,” continued Irvine.

Rural Colorado At Risk

According to national research, cutting hospital reimbursement rates poses a devastating threat to rural hospitals in Colorado. One study found more than a dozen rural hospitals in Colorado would face the threat of closure under a federal public option, for example.

“Rural Colorado already struggles to attract medical care and new businesses. If you don’t have access to health care, you make the challenge of attracting new business much harder, especially if you may only have one hospital or one doctor on a rotating basis for several communities. I think the state’s plan would put things in jeopardy or make it harder for rural Colorado to attract new employees and businesses,” said Jenifer Waller, Senior Vice President/Chief Operating Officer of the Colorado Bankers Association and a native of rural Colorado. Waller made her comments at a recent health care forum hosted by the Denver Business Journal.

Job Losses for Doctors and Nurses

Here in Colorado, a study from the REMI Partnership warned the state option could cut hospital budgets by hundreds of millions of dollars per year and push thousands of healthcare professionals out of their jobs. This would make the state’s existing shortage of doctors and nurses much worse.

“According to the study, it’s clear that a state option would ultimately cost Colorado. Someone has to pay the bill – either providers will cut jobs or Colorado businesses will face increased costs,” said Strohm, who is also a member of the REMI Partnership. 

Endangering the Quality of Care

Implementing price controls and cutting reimbursement rates will only threaten the quality of care our caregivers can provide. If below-cost reimbursement rates expand, providers will have no choice but to cut services, reduce staff and possibly close their doors altogether. Ultimately, patients will have less access to quality care, not more, and our state will be the worse for it.

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese underscored the point in a recent opinion column, “… Here’s the reality. The impacts of the public option, guised as “competition,” yield the same result: fewer and fewer providers of private health insurance, rationing of health care services by politicians and bureaucrats, lower quality health care, and less access to cutting-edge services. In a nutshell: pay more, wait longer, receive less care.”

Law makers want your feedback. Tell them what you think of the proposed public option. The online comment process closes on October 28, and comments can be sent to: HCPF_1004AffordableOption@state.co.us.