Colorado Option bill will no longer create public option; Rep. Roberts says amendments will still reduce premiums
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado will not create a state-backed health insurance option after sponsors of the bill cut a deal with opponents they say will still achieve their goals of lowering health care costs in Colorado.
When the bill is back in front of the House Health and Insurance Committee on Tuesday, a number of amendments will be announced to significantly change the bill — removing the part that would create the Colorado Option — and move key interest groups to a neutral position on the bill.
“It still gets us to the end goal of a lower cost insurance product available in every county in the state,” said bill sponsor Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon, who represents Routt County at the Capitol. “If making a deal makes it so it is not a true public option anymore but rather a public-private partnership, I think that’s worth it.”
Unveiled Monday afternoon, the compromise bill gives the health care industry more time to accomplish a lesser reduction in premiums and eliminates the threat of the public option entering the market. But it makes that reduction a requirement rather than optional like the first version of the bill, and if carriers fail to meet these targets, the state may set rates themselves to meet the savings targets.
Dropping the public option hasn’t gotten key health care industry groups to support the measure, but it has gotten them to not oppose it. The Colorado Hospital Association, Colorado Association of Health Plans, Colorado Rural Health Alliance and others have all agreed to be neutral on the legislation after the amendments are incorporated.
“We will reevaluate our position if there are significant material changes made to the bill that impact Colorado hospitals,” the Colorado Hospital Association said in a statement announcing its neutrality on the bill. “We recognize this is an unprecedented intervention into our private health insurance markets and will require continuous evaluation.”
The previous version of the bill would have had two phases, with the first being a two-year period where carriers are given the opportunity to reduce costs on their own, with a target of 20% savings in two years. If companies failed to meet these voluntary benchmarks, phase two would have created a nonprofit entity that would sell the public option on the individual and small group markets.
After the amendments, the bill will just have one, three-year phase where carriers would be required to reduce costs by 18%. If carriers fail, the state may have limited ability to step in and set insurance rates themselves that would meet cost saving benchmarks.
Roberts said the original version of the bill was a starting point, and it was always likely going to change. What has not changed, Roberts said, is the quality of the health care this standardized option will be.
“We’ll actually get to lower cost sooner then the introduced version of the bill,” Roberts said. “We will still be creating the same standardized plan that the introduced version of the bill puts in place.”
This standardized plan is unlike anything offered in Colorado before, Roberts said, and it will be available in every county of the state, starting in 2023.
Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail and sponsor of the bill, said the bill is primarily focused on the individual and small group markets, which is important for small businesses on the Western Slope.
“That is where we are hearing from our constituents about where the prices are not affordable to be able to do the responsible thing of having health insurance,” Donovan said.
The amendments are expected to be added to the bill Tuesday, but Roberts said there could still be more changes to the bill moving forward, though, they wouldn’t be as major as the change announced Monday.
While some may be disappointed about the lack of a public option — an idea that has steadily grown in popularity among progressives — Roberts said getting something passed was more important than sticking to his ideological philosophies.
“A public option in theory is a good idea, in my opinion,” Roberts said. “At the end of the day, my constituents sent me down here, not to stick to ideological talking points, but to actually get results. That is what I think this change in direction will do.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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