ICYMI: Government-controlled health insurance option would be costly, impede improvements to current system

DENVER, Colo. – As lawmakers begin crafting the state budget, the Joint Budget Committee – the legislative decision-making body that funds or rejects proposed budget requests – welcomed public input during last week’s hearing to consider how to spend taxpayer dollars. While a well-intended effort to prioritize the best use of limited tax dollars against a challenging economic landscape, many items proposed require further stakeholder input and public vetting than just a last-minute one-day hearing.

Of the many costly items listed in the state’s budget proposal, one includes a request to allocate taxpayer funding towards the creation of a state government-controlled health insurance option. “At first blush, a government insurance option seems harmless enough, perhaps even smart,” writes Kevin Ross, former Weld County Commissioner and mayor of Eaton, in the Greeley Tribune“But, in practice, the mechanics of the plan could prove costly — both in economic burdens and impacts on Colorado’s health care system.”

As proponents and lawmakers prepare to reintroduce a state government option bill again this session, Ross notes, “While the bill sponsors have been adamant that there will be “notable changes” from last session’s bill, it’s likely we will see much of the same.”

Ross continues, “The “new” bill will most likely impose rate setting on hospitals. Many providers operate on thin or even negative margins, and any further cuts could set them over the edge. Colorado’s interconnected health care system is already projected to lose billions due to battling the COVID-19 crisis.” He adds, “It will force many care centers to cut services or, worse, close altogether. More than 40% of Colorado hospitals run at a loss.”

Not only does a state government-controlled health insurance option jeopardize access to high-quality care, but it threatens the employer-provided coverage that thousands of Coloradans rely on. “For insurers, the state-prescribed terms are likely to be financially untenable. The only recourse would be to exit the market, which would mean fewer choices for consumers,” highlights Ross.

As a former Weld County commissioner and mayor of Eaton, Ross suggests, “Real solutions, however, will require a comprehensive and collaborative approach that brings all parties to the table — not unilateral government controls that simply create appearances of savings.”

Instead, taxpayer dollars would be better utilized on strengthening existing programs with proven results and lawmakers should “evaluate what is already working to drive down the costs and expand access to care.”Ross points to the example that “Coloradans are saving almost 21% on premiums when buying individual health insurance through the state’s exchange” and current programs have expanded access and choice with “the number of counties that had one insurance option that now have at least two or more went from 22 to only 10 in mainly rural areas on Colorado.”

While Colorado’s health care system continues to overcome a daunting public health crisis, the Joint Budget Committee should allocate funding where it is most immediately needed rather than gambling with a massive overhaul to the state’s health care system, like a state government-controlled health insurance option. Ross concludes, “While there’s always room to improve, it is important we acknowledge the current system is making progress and a new government option will only impede on the work already being done.”

To read the full opinion piece published by the Greeley TribuneCLICK HERE.