Opinion: The path to the Colorado Healthcare Option
Rep. Dylan Roberts
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
When a community faces a difficult problem like a health pandemic, it can illuminate society’s challenges and gaps. One of those challenges is that far too many Coloradans lack access to affordable healthcare, especially in Routt County.
Talking about the gaps and challenges of our healthcare system is not new territory for me as your legislator. Rural Coloradans have some of the highest prices in the individual market of anywhere in the country, presenting a constant financial strain.
I have been working for several years at the State Capitol with fellow legislators to lower healthcare costs and have had some success —reinsurance, capping insulin costs, hospital price transparency, health care co-ops and more — but my big, multi-year effort led to a bill I authored with Sen. Kerry Donovan to craft the Colorado Healthcare Option, legislation that would bring Coloradans a new and affordable health insurance option, which was introduced at the legislature in March.
After a multi-year legislative process, months of meetings with stakeholders and countless hours of bill drafting and amending, I was proud to introduce the bill to create a Colorado Health Care Option. We need this new health insurance option because Routt County residents who purchase on the individual market have some of the least access to affordable healthcare options in the state. Most residents only have one healthcare plan to choose from and therefore face some of the highest premiums in the nation. Approximately 13.1% of Routt County residents are uninsured, a staggering statistic compared to the 6.5% uninsured statewide. The purpose of the Colorado Option bill was to bring competition to these underserved counties in order to reduce premium costs and provide choice so that more Coloradans have access to affordable healthcare.
As the country nears 20% unemployment, counties here in the high country near 50% unemployment due to the coronavirus. In this time of sweeping unemployment, we are starkly reminded that employment is more than a job; it is many people’s connection to the security of health insurance for themselves and their families.
Fifty-two percent of Coloradans’ access to healthcare is dependent upon having a job. Consider these numbers in the midst of a healthcare national emergency: it’s hard to argue that our healthcare system isn’t designed to fail many of our friends and neighbors.
I am proud of the bipartisan legislation that initiated the Colorado Option, and I was hopeful that the engagement with hospitals, insurers, doctors, nurses, patients, business owners and so many others — not to mention all of the constituents who are overly-burdened with health insurance costs — would guide that bill through the House and the Senate and to the Governor’s desk. Then, on March 14, for the safety of the public, staff and our colleagues, the Colorado General Assembly adjourned, putting the Colorado Option on hold.
While we will be returning the legislature on May 18, this pandemic still continues. With that, we have reached the difficult decision of withdrawing the Colorado Option from the remainder of this year’s session in order to ensure that those whom the bill is meant to serve and those it will impact can be robustly involved in the process. Nothing about this decision means my resolve to ensure every Coloradan has access to affordable health care has weakened. However, we must responsibly move forward and respect the life-saving work our health care community is doing right now.
We believe the Colorado Option is the right policy and will help people across Colorado by increasing access to affordable healthcare. We also believe that a critical stakeholder group — our nurses, pharmacists, EMTs, doctors and hospital staff — cannot participate in a policy process while they are responding to this worldwide emergency. A successful Colorado Option needs the input of our frontline workers and right now they need to focus on taking care of patients and themselves.
We will continue to not only work on the Colorado Option throughout the coming months but also fight to ensure the healthcare industry focuses on people, not profits, in the future. We look forward to safely gathering around meeting tables with all stakeholders to make this policy work for Colorado and address the gap COVID-19 has illuminated.
Routt County and our state will have a Colorado Option soon, one that increases access to affordable healthcare for all Coloradans. But now is not the right time to debate this legislation. In the meantime, be kind and take care of you and yours.
Rep. Dylan Roberts is the sate representative for Colorado House District 26, which encompasses Eagle and Routt counties.
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