WHAT THEY ARE SAYING: Leaders And Groups Representing Colorado’s Communities Of Color Oppose The State Government Option (House Bill 21-1232)

May 17, 2021

DENVER – Ahead of today’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing regarding House Bill 21-1232 – which would create a new state government-controlled health insurance system, known as the state government option – leaders and groups representing Colorado’s communities of color have expressed opposition and serious concerns about the unanswered questions and negative costs and consequences of this proposal.

Colorado business leaders and health care professionals representing communities of color will further discuss HB21-1232 during a live virtual event tonight from 5:00pm to 6:00pm co-hosted by the Colorado Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (COHCC), Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Springs Hispanic Business Council, Latino Chamber of Commerce of Pueblo, Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Contractors of Colorado, African Chamber of Commerce of Colorado and Asian Chamber of Commerce of Colorado.

Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce:

Let’s be clear about this. Imposing a new health care system that massively cuts revenue to local hospitals and providers is not going to do anything to help deliver quality, comprehensive care to the communities that need it most. Setting arbitrarily low rates for physicians across the health care spectrum adversely impacts the quality of care and patient access. For communities that already struggle with these issues, slashing rates will likely lead to closure of medical facilities, hurting the people that need the help the most.

…Health care is a complex, complicated issue – one that touches the lives of every single Coloradan. We all want to make health care affordable and accessible. And we all understand the need to lower costs and improve access. We don’t agree the best way to do that is by creating a massive, state government-run health care system. If that happens, our community risks continuing to be steamrolled by politics and policies that don’t help us – even if lawmakers have the best intentions to improve access and quality. 

Colorado Black Roundtable (CBRT):  

Sadly, the health care system here in Colorado and across the country is riddled with disparities that impact the quality of and access to care for our community. This has become all the more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the state health department, Black Coloradans are dying from the COVID-19 at a disproportionately high rate while communities of color in general are seeing higher rates of infection relative to their share of the population.

Rather than addressing these disparities, a state-run public health care option would only exacerbate them.

Dr. Johnny E. Johnson, OB/GYN in Denver and President of the Mile High Medical Society: 

This bill would hurt the very communities that proponents intend to help. Fixing our health care system in order to help those most at risk access cost-effective care requires strengthening our existing system, and attracting and retaining more doctors to the field. 

…Colorado needs doctors. Between retirement from the profession and burnout fueled by the pandemic, the Centennial State is facing an alarming shortage of physicians. HB21-1232 would make Colorado’s doctor shortage worse by mandating participation in state option. This is a direct threat to communities of color and their access to care.

…If we want to create a better future for aspiring Black doctors and ensure communities of color have access to high quality and affordable care, Colorado lawmakers should re-think their approach. HB21- 1232 is not the solution to improving our health care system, it is its own problem.

Pastor Del Phillips, Chairman, Colorado Black Leadership Coalition: 

The proposed bill, on the surface, has well intended aspirations but would fail to deliver a favorable outcome for members of the Black community. This proposal would actually create obstacles to health care access in addition to those that already hinder rural and underserved communities. 

Hospitals that service members in the Black community will be chief among those impacted by policy changes this proposed legislation would create and therefore endanger their ability to make access to their services affordable. 

Lawmakers must consider the larger implications that would further impair the most vulnerable population already traumatized by the impact of the world-wide pandemic. The timing of this proposal is gravely insensitive to the present disparity of healthcare services that plagues our state. 

Wellington Webb, Former Long-time Mayor of Denver 

While I certainly understand the need to lower costs and improve access, I do not agree with some lawmakers in the state legislature that the best way to do that is by attempting to create a massive, state government-run health insurance system.

…Bottom line, pushing through an untested, ill-advised state government-run option for health insurance doesn’t serve the best interests of Coloradans, particularly those already facing major health care disparities. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel — and doing it less successfully — state legislators should look for opportunities to build upon what is working in our current system while passing more practical policy measures to address what isn’t. Ultimately, that’s the right way to improve health. 

Angel Merlos, Coalitions Director, The LIBRE Initiative-Colorado:

This is something many Latinos, especially those from Venezuela and Cuba, understood well. They know that there is a world of difference between what a public insurance option promises and what, historically, it has been able to deliver. 

The result would be single-payer by another means, a process by which lawmakers would push private insurers and their policyholders to the margins. Research has shown this: A rise in the use of public health insurance programs results in a corresponding drop in the number of people covered by private insurance.

That isn’t the only problem with a public option. There is another that many Latinos understand well: Government-run care results in worse health outcomes.

Dr. Terri Richardson, Internal Medicine Specialist in Denver: 

Establishing a new, state government-run public option could ultimately hurt the very communities it is purportedly designed to help, leaving racial and ethnic minorities communities behind yet again.

…Lawmakers need to consider the larger implications of the policies they put forward. It is simply not going to be possible to enforce government mandates that set arbitrarily low rates across the health care spectrum without an adverse impact on patient access. Especially in rural and underserved areas, slashing rates will likely only lead to a mass exodus of qualified doctors, contributing to a shortage of physicians that is already taking its toll on at-risk communities. Inevitably, the public option will hurt the patients that need our help most.

More Business In. More Business Up. And More Business Across

Opposition Letter to HB 21-1232

We all agree healthcare can be improved in Colorado. At a time when we are facing unparalleled economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the wrong time to recommend an untested, unproven proposal that does not lower costs or expand access to care.

The Colorado Black Chamber believes the system should be improved the right way.

Sadly, Colorado’s health care system is riddled with disparities that impact the quality of and access to care for our community. In this, Colorado’s no different than the rest of America. This is more evident during the pandemic. Black Coloradans are dying from the virus at a disproportionately high rate while all communities of color are seeing higher rates of infection. Rather than addressing these disparities, a state-run public health care option would only make the problems worse.

Let’s be clear about this. Imposing a new health care system that massively cuts revenue to local hospitals and providers is not going to do anything to help deliver quality, comprehensive care to the communities that need it most. Setting arbitrarily low rates for physicians across the health care spectrum adversely impacts the quality of care and patient access. For communities that already struggle with these issues, slashing rates will likely lead to closure of medical facilities, hurting the people that need the help the most.

One recent report notes, the proposed state government option could negatively impact 78% of Colorado hospitals, resulting in $112 million in annual losses. Due to the current deficiencies in the health care system, the report also notes that Black and Latinos disproportionately utilize hospitals for primary care. According to the report, as a result of these losses, more than 40% of the hospitals that serve a disproportionately larger share of Black, Latino, and indigenous Coloradans, would be at a higher risk of closure.

That equals a substantial economic impact on our community.

Health care is a complex, complicated issue – one that touches the lives of every single Coloradan. We all want to make health care affordable and accessible. And we all understand the need to lower costs and improve access. We don’t agree the best way to do that is by creating a massive, state government-run health care system. If that happens, our community risks continuing to be steamrolled by politics and policies that don’t help us – even if lawmakers have the best intentions to improve access and quality.

Sincerely,

Lee Kathryn Gash-Maxey

Lee Kathryn Gash-Maxey Executive Director

Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce
Diverse Business Center 444 Sherman Street | Denver, CO 80203 (303) 831-0746 | [email protected] coloradoblackchamber.org

Don’t be railroaded by the Colorado Legislature.

Stop this train in its tracks.  Call your legislators.

HB 1232 is a train wreck waiting to happen.

CBRT agrees with Mayor Wellington E. Webb’s editorial in the 

May 12,2021 Denver Post excerpted below.

Let’s Improve Health Care in Colorado the Right Way 
Denver Mayor Wellington Webb

Access to and the provision of health care is a complicated issue. While I certainly support and understand the need to lower costs and improve access, I do not agree that the best way to do that is by attempting to create a massive, state government-run health care system. If that happens, our community risks continuing to be steamrolled by politics and policies that don’t help our communities – even if lawmakers have the best intentions to improve access and quality.

In fact, I believe that such a system will only serve to increase the disparities facing communities of color while massively increasing costs and power in a government that has not yet proven its ability to allocate resources in an equitable way. Rather than taking Colorado down this perilous road, lawmakers should instead work to improve upon our current healthcare system to reduce the barriers that are preventing folks from getting the care they need when they need it.

While I served in the Colorado Legislature, I was the lead sponsor for three insurance bills. One bill mandated that insurance companies offer group health policies that included coverage for alcoholism; another bill mandated these companies must provide coverage for complications in pregnancy; and lastly a bill to ensure coverage for drug treatment. These bills passed, but we all know that’s only half of the battle. Implementation – equitable implementation – is the other half.

I later returned to state government as executive director of Colorado’s Regulatory Agencies, which includes the Division of Insurance and the Insurance Commissioner, I was angry to learn none of the insurance legislation had been implemented. This is a clear example of what can go wrong when the Insurance Commissioner has too much authority. Yet, this is what House Bill 21-1232 proposes. The impact is still undeniable; it simply changes nothing to improve health disparities for Colorado’s communities of color. It is a bad idea.

I have laid out specific details of the disproportionate impact of this proposed legislation of communities of color in a recent opinion piece published by the Denver Post. Sadly, the health care system here in Colorado and across the country is riddled with disparities that impact the quality of and access to care for our community. This has become all the more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the state health department, Black Coloradans are dying from the COVID-19 at a disproportionately high rate while communities of color in general are seeing higher rates of infection relative to their share of the population.

Rather than addressing these disparities, a state-run public health care option would only exacerbate them.

The time is now to reach out to your legislators and let them know they should look for opportunities to build upon what is working in our current system instead of trying to unsuccessfully reinvent a system that already doesn’t work! They must hear from us that we want more practical policy measures to improve health care. Don’t pass a policy that will ultimately hurt us.

HB21-1232 Would Widen the Health Disparity Gap Among Communities of Color

By Dr. Johnny E. Johnson

The Mile High Medical Society (MHMS) was founded in 2015 because we saw an urgent need for Black doctors in the Rocky Mountain region. The number of Black doctors and Black medical students has dramatically decreased in recent years – not only in Colorado but across the country – at a time when we need them the most.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that there is still more work to do to close the disparity gap in health care among communities of color. The Mile High Medical Society works every day to eliminate these disparities through advocacy, education and meaningful health policy.

That is why MHMC is concerned about HB21-1232 – the Colorado State Option – that is currently under consideration in the Colorado State Senate.

This bill would hurt the very communities that proponents intend to help. Fixing our health care system in order to help those most at risk access cost-effective care requires strengthening our existing system, and attracting and retaining more doctors to the field.

African Americans are less likely than white Americans to use a primary care doctor for routine care; instead, they frequently rely on emergency rooms for their medical needs. But racial disparities exist even in emergency room care. A 2019 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Black and Hispanic patients were more likely to be transported to hospitals that serve more poor or uninsured patients rather than the nearest emergency room.

The drastic rate cuts proposed in HB21-1232 puts emergency room care at risk. Emergency room doctors will be driven out of the state, making it even more difficult for African Americans to receive care.

Many physicians within the Black medical community know firsthand the impact that lack of quality health care and racial health disparities can have. Some of us grew up in households where preventable medical issues turned into chronic conditions because proper health care was inaccessible, unaffordable, or both. It’s what brought us to crowded emergency rooms late at night. Ultimately, it’s what led many of us to the field – to give care to those who need it most.

Colorado needs doctors. Between retirement from the profession and burnout fueled by the pandemic, the Centennial State is facing an alarming shortage of physicians. HB21-1232 would make Colorado’s doctor shortage worse by mandating participation in state option. This is a direct threat to communities of color and their access to care.

We simply cannot provide proper medical care for our most underserved populations without a strong workforce – where doctors are abundant, and patients have the ability to get the medical attention they need when they need it, from medical professionals that they can relate to. The danger of HB21-1232 is that it drives doctors out of Colorado instead of incentivizing them to practice here.

MHMS is proud of the work we do to mentor and shepherd the next generation of Black physicians. The Mile High Medical Society has given millions of dollars in full-ride scholarships, and we help train the some of the best and brightest medical students at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Center – one of the top level one trauma centers in the country.

The students we work with have compassionate hearts, and are eager to go out into their communities and serve those in need. They are our future cardiologists, neurologists, obstetricians and pediatricians – those who will help us build a stronger health care system and close the racial disparity gap.

If we want to create a better future for aspiring Black doctors and ensure communities of color have access to high quality and affordable care, Colorado lawmakers should re-think their approach. HB21- 1232 is not the solution to improving our health care system, it is its own problem.

Dr. Johnny E. Johnson is an OB/GYN in Denver and the president of the Mile High Medical Society.

Members: NAACP – Denver/Aurora, Colo Black Chamber, Urban League, Northeast Islamic Center,

Greater Denver Interfaith Alliance, Colo Black Women for Political Action, Diversity Dynamics, and the

Colo Clergy Coalition/ Colorado Southern Christian Leadership Counsel (SCLC)

Colorado Black Leadership Coalition supports the work of its member organizations and commits

to build sustainable solutions for the well-being of our community and be a leading navigator bringing

together people, resources, and organizations for common causes.

Letter of Concern

Opposition to HB 21-1232

Our coalition of combined community organizations, representing the interest of the Black Community, are opposed to the proposal for the implementation of a State Government run health care insurance system. The proposed bill, on the surface, has well intended aspirations but would fail to deliver a favorable outcome for members of the Black community. This proposal would actually create obstacles to health care access in addition to those that already hinder rural and underserved communities.

Cost burdens to medical recipients in communities of color would increase and there are projections from analyst that forecast a significant number of lost healthcare jobs and reductions to medical staff income, if this proposal became law. One specific analyst study submits the pay cut to industry staff could be as high as $1 billion dollars over the next three years.

Hospitals that service members in the Black community will be chief among those impacted by policy changes this proposed legislation would create and therefore endanger their ability to make access to their services affordable.

Lawmakers must consider the larger implications that would further impair the most vulnerable population already traumatized by the impact of the world-wide pandemic. The timing of this proposal is gravely insensitive to the present disparity of healthcare services that plagues our state.

We are requesting lawmakers to prevent this proposal, BH 21-1232, from becoming law.

Pastor Del Phillips
Chairman / Colorado Black Leadership Coalition