Promised state-backed health care public option delayed, but not forgotten

When last year’s legislative session gaveled in, the hottest show under the gold dome was the pending fight over the public option, one of the last big pieces of Gov. Jared Polis’ campaign promise to save people money on their health care.

The state’s economy was booming, Polis was past his honeymoon as governor and the bill sponsors, Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail with Reps. Dylan Roberts of Avon and Chris Kennedy of Lakewood, had made the appropriate rounds making the case for affordable insurance.

They’ll make that case again this year, Donovan told Colorado Politics, likely dropping a similar but bolder insurance proposal early in the session that begins Jan. 13.

House Bill 1349 was introduced on March 5 this year, passed one House committee on a party-line vote and ultimately was withdrawn by its sponsors when the pandemic and racial inequity in criminal justice took center stage.

Asked if the bill might be slimmed down to reflect the pandemic strains on hospitals and insurers, Donovan said, “I would say the opposite. I wouldn’t say it’s a carbon copy of last year, but I have no interest in a pandemic to pare back on access to health care. That’s the exact opposite approach (the Legislature should take).

“We need to make things bigger and bolder to address the reality of a health care system that is tied to your employment,” she said. “In a pandemic, you lose your job and your health care while your health is being threatened.

“If that narrative alone doesn’t show people why we need serious, structural dynamic health care reform, I’m not sure what other story we can tell.”

Donovan hopes President-elect Joe Biden and Democrats, if they take control of the Senate, can pass a federal public option, as Biden promised on the campaign trail.

The need to pull down prices and extend competition hasn’t gone anywhere.

Everything else wrinkled and frayed, and those they will have to overcome or cooperate say they’re not sure what’s happening on a plan that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.

A public option is a government-backed insurance policy that Coloradans who can’t find competitive rates could buy. Last year’s proposal would have required carriers to offer the coverage in every county.

The below-market premium, however, was made possible by price caps on hospitals and doctors.

The state studied it and concluded hospitals could break even recouping 143% of the federal Medicare reimbursement rate.

The Colorado public option would carry a base rate at 155% and ratchet up from there, based on the hospital.

Hospitals would be required to accept the policy.

In the bargain, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing estimates Coloradans shopping on the individual market could save between 7% and 20% on premiums.

Last year’s proposal would have expanded the option from…

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