Polis unveils health care master plan

State

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced his short and long term plans for lowering health care costs in Colorado Thursday.

In the middle of the Denver Health Campus, the Democratic governor laid out 13 steps he says will lower costs for Coloradans.

“Together [it] will have a real demonstrable impact to save people money,” Polis said. 

Polis’ office reports on average, Coloradans pay 32% of their income in health care costs, whether that be insurance or actual treatments that are paid for out of pocket. 

Polis breaks down the steps into two categories — short and mid to long term.

His short term goals are to:

  • Increase hospital transperancy.
  • Establish a reinsurance pool in order to create lower premiums for people who buy their own insurance, rather than going through an employer.
  • Negotiate health care plans to lower the cost of health insurance.
  • Lower hospital prices via consumer protections on things like out-of-network costs.
  • Decrease the cost of prescription drugs by importing them from Canada.

“By importing safe prescription medications from Canada, often made in the same facility, the same factory and yet, Americans are paying three, four, five times as much for the same prescription drug,” Polis said.

Because of the bargaining power larger companies have to get lower health insurance plans for their employees, people who are self-employed or do not have those kinds of benefits can see higher health care premiums. 

Peg Ellison and her husband are self-employed and say insurance hits them hard. 

“Here’s an example,” Ellison said. “The premiums for health, dental and vision are $1,400 a month. Times 12, that’s $16,800 a year.”

Polis said reinsurance pools for people like them could lower the cost, on a state average, by 20%. In rural places, the governor’s office estimates 20% to 30% decreases, and 15% to 20% for Front Range communities. 

“Could we use some of this money elsewhere in our business? Yes. Could we use it to hire employees? Probably.” Ellison said.

These are Polis’ mid to long term steps:

  • Launch a state-backed health insurance office to increase competition.
  • Reward primary and preventive care.
  • Expand the health care workforce.
  • Increase access to health food.
  • Improve vaccination rates through evidence sharing.
  • Support health care delivery and reform models.
  • Reform the behavioral health system.

Polis plans to launch a statewide plan and task force this month as part of that last step.

“Health care is very bipartisan,” said Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican representing southeastern El Paso County. “It’s nonpartisan. It affects everybody.”

Landgraf could be one of the lawmakers on the task force. She says lack of mental and behavioral health treatment shows as Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, and El Paso County is the highest in the state.

“We have so many different bills that we run and programs that we run to fix this that and the other thing,” Landgraf said. “If we can pull them all together and figure out what’s helping, what isn’t working, and have someone directing the entire show, I think it would be more effective.”

Of the 13 steps, there are 10 pieces of legislation related to the goals in session this year. One, so far, has been passed for hospital transperancy — requiring hospitals to submit a yearly report to the state on what they have charged patients.

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