Dozens sign up to testify in Colorado's public option bill's first committee test

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Posted at 12:03 AM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 22:51:14-04

DENVER — The Colorado Affordable Health Care Option bill faced its first committee test Wednesday. The so-called public option bill would create a new, state-backed health insurance plan for people who use the state’s individual marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado, for their coverage.

The public option would not apply to people who get their insurance through their employer.

During a House Health and Insurance Committee hearing, co-sponsors Rep. Dylan Roberts and Rep. Chris Kennedy, both Democrats, presented the bill and spoke about its benefits, particularly for rural counties.

Numerous health insurance providers and hospitals also attended the hearing to testify against the bill.

“We have significant and serious concerns with the bill — the public option — we think it’s fundamentally flawed,” said Chris Gessner, the President and CEO of UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. “This bill seems particularly punitive to hospitals, which are the heart and soul of communities.”

Part of the bill would limit the reimbursement rate hospitals are paid for services, which Gessner said could seriously affect his hospital’s budget. He worries the type of cuts the bill is proposing would cause his hospital to have to take a close look at its training, research and other expenses.

“The extent of these cuts that are pretty draconian would definitely cause us to potentially scale back on some of these programs,” Gessner said.

Those worries were also echoed by Children’s Hospital of Colorado.

Zach Zaslow, the director of government affairs for the hospital, said he doesn’t believe the bill will address the underlying affordability crisis the state is facing and that it could disproportionately hurt his hospital.

Children’s Hospital of Colorado is a level one trauma center as well as a teaching hospital for pediatricians. It also provides a lot of subsidy and investment into medical research.

“This bill and the formulas in it don’t take any of that into account, so we are almost, to uniquely disadvantaged, by the reimbursement formula in this bill,” Zaslow said.

If it passes, Zaslow is worried the bill will have ripple effects not only within its own programs but also for patients and pediatricians across the state.

“This bill basically in 20 pages, which could become law in a matter of months, rewrites about 10 to 15% of our states healthcare system,” he said.

Others, meanwhile, testified in favor of the bill and its potential benefits. Gunnison County Commissioner John Messner made the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Denver because he’s convinced this bill will help his constituents.

“In Gunnison County there’s only one insurance provider on the marketplace,” Messner said.

He hopes the bill and additional insurance options will create more competition and drive down costs.

Gunnison is in a unique position because it owns its own hospital, so Messner said he has a stake in making sure the hospital is successful but also in providing affordable services for his residents.

“I do think in working with the bill sponsors, that we have been able to develop escalators and protections for rural hospitals to ensure that we are able to generate the money that we need to be successful and provide service, and at the same time, offer that potential reduction in rates,” Messner said.

He’s heard from numerous constituents who have had to make the difficult choice of paying for health insurance or their other bills and he’s committed to helping them find relief.

Meranda Viera, meanwhile, is a small business owner who gets her insurance through the individual marketplace and says she pays more than $1,000 per month.

Viera was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nearly two decades ago and says health insurance makes it possible for her to continue working. She testified for the first time ever at the Colorado State Capitol because she is hopeful this bill will help lower rates for people like her.

“This is big enough for me to come out here and to take time out of my work day,” Viera said.

On Twitter, Republicans and Democrats posted videos briefly explaining their outlook on the bill. In his video, Rep. Patrick Neville dubbed the bill PolisCare and called it dangerous. Rep. Roberts was much more optimistic about the bill’s future.