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Colorado Democrats announce public health insurance proposal

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Derek Draplin | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Colorado Democrats announced their long-anticipated public health care option proposal on Thursday, which they say would provide more competition and drive down costs. 

The legislation is being introduced by Reps. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.

“Addressing the root cause of rising health care costs is the best way to provide long-term, affordable, and quality health care for all Coloradans,” Roberts said during a news briefing Thursday. 

He said lawmakers’ top priority with the legislation “is to provide cheaper care for all Coloradans,” a goal that remains unchanged since Democrats proposed a public option bill last session that never passed.

The legislation would give health care providers a chance to lower their own costs, Roberts said, which came at the industry’s request.

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“In phase one of this proposal, the only thing that the state will do is set a standard for a standardized quality health insurance plan and give them a goal for premium reduction,” he said. 

“No government mandates, no requirements to participate,” Roberts added, noting that providers would have to meet a 20% decrease in insurance prices over the next 2½ years.

The legislation will also include a second phase in case the industry doesn’t support the first phase of the plan, that would create the Colorado Health Insurance Option as a “stopgap measure,” Roberts said.

That option would add a cheaper health care insurance plan into the marketplace, lawmakers argue.

Under the second phase, the state would create a nonprofit to offer and administer the public health care option.

“Nobody is forced to buy this Colorado option plan, and it’s paid for without raising taxes,” Roberts said. “It’s simply just a new, affordable choice that Coloradans deserve.”

The Avon Democrat said the public option plan would be funded by federal funds and insurance premiums paid by customers.

Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, who joined the call announcing the proposal, said it presents “a balanced approach to bringing more affordable health insurance options” to the state.

A study by the Common Sense Institute (CSI), a free market think tank based in Greenwood Village, estimated that a public option would increase the cost of care 2.6% by 2022, 2.71% by 2023, and 5.21% by 2024.

The Colorado Association of Health Plans (CAHP) said the public option proposal “is not feasible and is destined to move Colorado towards one government option.” 

“Health plans have worked hard to reduce premiums 28% in the last two years and increase competition across Colorado counties,” CAHP Executive Director Amanda Massey said in a statement. “Instead of continuing to partner with health plans to build upon this unprecedented progress, this proposal ignores these recent successes achieved by the market in favor of arbitrary, moving targets that will ensure industry failure. Make no mistake, the path to the government-run single payer health care system rejected by 80% of Colorado voters just a few years ago is paved with the public option program that this public option bill proposes.”

The proposal is also being opposed by business groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

“Though being pitched as a market solution, the truth is directing carriers to provide a specific government product and dictating the cost of that product ensures we lose all the value associated with creating a competitive marketplace,” said Kelly Brough, the chamber’s president and CEO. “We also have ongoing specific concerns about the legislation as well. The timelines and arbitrary thresholds in the bill are intended to guarantee that the private sector isn’t going to be given the time or the opportunity to meet the goals of the bill, which means a public option is a foregone conclusion.” 

The legislation was formally introduced Thursday.