Dylan Robert’s bill to create a public health insurance option gains steam
January 27, 2019
As a bipartisan bill aimed at establishing a public health insurance option for Coloradans makes its way onto the House floor, Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon) is feeling confident about support from the Senate and the Governor's office.
Last week, the bill was approved by the House Health and Insurance Committee in a 9-2 vote.
The cost of health insurance is exceptionally high in Colorado, Roberts said, with the mountain counties he represents having some of the highest premiums in the entire country.
"I talk to people all of the time who are choosing to forgo health insurance because they need to pay their mortgage," Roberts said.
And as premiums have skyrocketed during the past decade, so have deductibles. According to the Colorado Health Institute, deductibles rose 65 percent between 2010 and 2017.
Co-authored by Rep. Marc Catlin, (R-Montrose), HB19-1004 sets out the process to create a public option, Roberts explained.
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"This bipartisan bill is a uniquely Colorado solution to a big problem we have in our state," said Roberts in a news release. "Too many Coloradans, especially in rural Colorado, are paying too much for health insurance."
"We already have a lot of existing infrastructure," Roberts said, with Colorado's Medicaid program and Division of Insurance. The bill directs experts at the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Division of Insurance to use that infrastructure to come up with a new health insurance option, available to all Colorado residents, and which will be primarily funded by the premiums people pay.
Studies have shown the plan to be financially viable, Roberts said, even in the case of catastrophic illness or injury. There is also some federal money already designated for Colorado under the Affordable Care Act that can potentially help fund the program, he said. And just like any other insurance plan, the more people who buy in, the more successful it will be.
Studies also show they will be able to offer a more affordable insurance option, Roberts said, especially for individuals, families and small businesses who make too much to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act but are still struggling to make ends meet.
Many of Roberts’ constituents fall into that category due to the high cost of living in the mountain region.
The income required to meet basic living expenses in Routt County is anywhere from two to four times what the government considers the official federal poverty level, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy's 2018 Self-Sufficiency Standard. And almost a third of local households fall under the “self-sufficiency wage standard.”
A public option would also create competition in the marketplace, Roberts said, thus ideally lowering premiums for everyone. Roberts points to the (mostly rural) 14 counties in Colorado with only one insurance option on the individual market. "It's a monopoly."
Routt and Eagle Counties essentially have just one option (Anthem), he said, with a second option only available to a select few.
"People deserve choice and competition," Roberts said. "Especially in the mountains."
If passed, and once created, further legislation would be required to open the public option plan onto the free market. And, while Roberts said it is not his job to enforce antitrust laws, he said he does hope the new Attorney General, Phil Weiser, considers taking a look at the lack of competition.
Regardless, "I don't think anyone would argue against the free market and giving people choices."
If Robert's vision becomes a reality, it will be the first of its kind in the country. A couple other states have studied a government-run option, but one has yet to be implemented.
"Colorado would lead the nation," he said. "It's very exciting."
No one is forced to buy the public insurance. The plan will never cause a tax increase, and any funding will require legislative approval, Roberts said.
"We've been talking about lowering health insurance costs for years. Now is the time to do something about it because people are really struggling."
The bill will now go before the House Appropriations Committee. Roberts said he is also working on lowering the cost of prescription drugs.