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Gov. Polis Wants To Shrink Health Care Costs. Where Does The Agenda Stand Now?

Apr 23, 2019
Originally published on April 23, 2019 5:27 pm

Three weeks ago, Gov. Jared Polis stood outside Denver Health’s downtown hospital and made a long list of promises about improving health care.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle stood next to him and cheered him on, while a glossy, 10-page road map to lowering health care costs circulated through the crowd.

“We are working with our legislative champions to reduce out-of-pocket costs by improving consumer protections like preventing surprise out-of-network billing,” Polis said as he went down the list of proposals.

Polis considers his focus on health care policy to be one of the highlights of his first 100 days in office. He’s promised to import cheaper drugs from Canada and lower premiums.

He even created the new Office of Saving People Money on Health Care.

But much of Polis’ agenda actually falls on lawmakers who have to craft the proposals and pass them.

So far this session, they’ve passed bills to increase transparency of hospital costs, study a state-run insurance option and promote insurance cooperatives.

But with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, some of the most consequential pieces of health care legislation haven’t crossed the finish line yet.

Allie Morgan, a legislative analyst for the non-partisan Colorado Health Institute, is starting to wonder if there’s enough time left.

“Are they just going to run out of time for some of the bigger, more expensive, more complex proposals to have the kind of debate they need in order to pass them?” she said Friday in her office. “I don’t know if that will happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to the end of the session and there are a few bills, especially bigger fiscal notes, where they think they need more time.”

Morgan said one of those bills still being debated could also be one of the most consequential of the session. It’s the measure to establish a state-backed reinsurance program. Supporters say it could decrease insurance premiums on the Western Slope by as much as 40 percent.

“The fight with the reinsurance bill has been how to cover the state’s share of that, and a fight between hospitals and insurance carriers about who should bear the brunt,” Morgan said.

The bill cleared the House with several amendments, but has stalled in the state Senate. Lawmakers are scheduled to resume the debate over the bill on Thursday.

Other big proposals are still pending, including one that aims to import prescription drugs from Canada, where they are often cheaper than those sold in the United States.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers are celebrating the passage of other health care proposals. Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, has been working with fellow lawmakers to bring down the cost of premiums on the Western Slope and rural Colorado.

“I think the 2019 session has been a historic one for health care legislation,” Roberts said.

Roberts sponsored the bill to create a public insurance option.

“I think that’s going to be a great, innovative step we can take so we can have more competition and more choice in Colorado,” Roberts said. “It will particularly help people in the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.”

Morgan and Roberts agree that many of the proposals being debated this session will not automatically lead to lower health care costs.

“A lot of these would just be first step,” Morgan said. “For example, the governor has prioritized greater transparency on the health care system. Transparency is really important, but it’s also just a first step. Having transparency in and of itself doesn’t necessarily lower prices.”

And Roberts is already thinking ahead to the next session.

“This is not a one-year issue,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of years, and a lot of effort to get where we need to go with health care costs and access.”

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.

Copyright 2019 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.