Health care is a complicated issue, and there is no magic silver bullet that will address all the concerns Colorado communities face when it comes to accessing high-quality, comprehensive care at prices that won’t break the bank. While I certainly understand the need to lower costs and improve access, I do not agree with some lawmakers in the state legislature that the best way to do that is by attempting to create a massive, state government-run health insurance system.
In fact, I believe that such a system will only serve to increase the disparities facing some of Colorado’s most vulnerable communities while massively increasing costs and concentrating too much power in Colorado’s insurance commissioner’s office. Rather than taking Colorado down this perilous road, lawmakers should instead work to improve upon our current health insurance and health care system to reduce the barriers that are preventing folks from getting the care they need when they need it.
While I served in the Colorado General Assembly, I was the lead sponsor for three insurance bills. One bill mandated that insurance companies offer group health policies that included coverage for alcoholism; another bill mandated these companies must provide coverage for complications in pregnancy; and lastly a bill to ensure coverage for drug treatment. These bills passed, but we all know that’s only half of the battle, and I was in for a rude awakening.
I left the legislature to work for President Jimmy Carter. When I later returned to state government as executive director of Regulatory Agencies, which includes the Division of Insurance which is run by the insurance commissioner, I was angry to learn none of the insurance legislation that was approved years before had been implemented. This is a clear example of what can go wrong when a non-elected person, like the insurance commissioner, has too much authority. The same is true with the current proposal that would give the insurance commissioner too much power over our health insurance system. It is a bad idea.
Sadly, the health care system here in Colorado and across the country is riddled with disparities that impact the quality of and access to care for racial and ethnic minority communities. This has become all the more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the state health department, Black Coloradans are dying from COVID-19 at a disproportionately high rate while communities of color, in general, are seeing higher rates of infection relative to their share of the population.
Rather than addressing these disparities, a state-run public health care option would only exacerbate them.
In these underserved communities, hospitals often fill a vital role in providing access to health care services that residents may not otherwise be able to find. Threatening the ability of these facilities to keep their doors open by arbitrarilly reducing reimbursement rates under a new state health insurance plan would put already vulnerable Coloradans at greater risk. Increased hospital closures, which could be an indirect result of the state government option, would also deal a devastating economic blow to Colorado’s small towns and rural communities.
On top of that, the state government option would likely fail to deliver on the promise of lowering costs. In Washington, the only state in the nation to impose such a health care system, premiums have increased instead of decreased, with some coming in at nearly 30% more expensive than what was available through the ACA’s marketplace last year. Is that really the future Colorado legislators want for our state?
Bottom line, pushing through an untested, ill-advised state government-run option for health insurance doesn’t serve the best interests of Coloradans, particularly those already facing major health care disparities. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel — and doing it less successfully — state legislators should look for opportunities to build upon what is working in our current system while passing more practical policy measures to address what isn’t. Ultimately, that’s the right way to improve health
Wellington Webb was the mayor of Denver for 12 years beginning in 1991.
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