Colorado health-care study receives votes to move forward
DENVER—A proposed law in the state Legislature that would attempt to discover what sets the health-care rates statewide overcame another obstacle on Thursday.
The Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee heard House Bill 16-1336 on first reading yesterday afternoon at the Capitol in a small chamber room approaching capacity. The bill, which comfortably passed the House by a vote of 54-11 on April 1, nearly received unanimous support from the five-senator committee, with only chairman Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Loveland) — also the Senate’s assistant majority leader — offering a no-vote.
“Committee is the hardest hurdle for a bill to clear,” said bill sponsor, Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail). “So to get it out on a 4-1 vote is, I think, a testament to the testimony and the stories that we heard today.”
A band of elected county officials and their constituents from several towns in the mountain and resort communities drove down to Denver to share their personal narratives on why this study of the state’s region-based health-care pricing is not only beneficial, but compulsory. Where mostly suits and stately attire are the standard, a handful of guests trudged into the meeting representing their fellow rural residents, wearing cowboy boots or hikers and blue jeans.
Among the coterie was Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, who has been a leading voice on the bill. Gibbs, himself a former state representative and senator still with strong ties to the Legislature, quipped that he’s been acting as a “volunteer lobbyist” for the bill’s sponsors: Sens. Donovan and Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) in the Senate, and earlier Reps. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) and Bob Rankin (R–Carbondale) in the House. Sen. Linda Newell (D-Littleton), a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, joked before the hearing that HB 16-1336 is being labeled around the Capitol as “Dan Gibbs’ bill.”
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Gibbs was one of the first to speak in front of the committee in favor of the bill during approximately two hours of testimony. He spoke on the misinformation circulating as to why rural places statewide have the heightened health-care fees they do.
“I’ve heard some discussion in the Capitol that says, ‘We know exactly why health care is so expensive in the mountains. Well, it’s because it’s so expensive in the mountains … and how expensive it is to live in a particular area,’” said Gibbs. “That’s not a factor at all in terms of looking at the true costs of health care.”
Dave Rossi, a longtime Breckenridge resident who is self-employed and works in the design and branding industry, is one member of the public who made the trip to lend the committee his perspective. He emphasized that not being able to offer reasonably-priced insurance premiums to so many of the young entrepreneurs in the region with whom he works is the same as lacking any other element of infrastructure that makes businesses run.
“We’re all really excited to live in a state that’s so startup and business-friendly,” said Rossi. “The Western Slope has the same drive and passion, but we’re not able to afford health care equally. It’s just as bad as not being able to have broadband or affordable housing.”
Others on hand to speak in support of the bill were representatives of Garfield, Gunnison, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin and Grand counties — each sharing their personal stories of financial strain from rising premium and hospital visits or those of the residents they represent. Many were armed with petitions and other paperwork signed by countless others, expressing how the costs of health care in their respective communities has essentially reached the level of a second mortgage, while those in Denver or Boulder see much more equitable pricing.
No one in attendance who gave testimony in front of the committee officially spoke out against the bill. However, Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Pueblo), the committee’s vice-chair, noted that the asserted statements provided by representatives of two health-care trade groups — the Colorado Association of Health Plans (CAHP) and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) — were less neutral than they appeared.
Both Charlie Sheffield, executive director of CAHP, and Virginia Morrison Love, the lobbyist representing AHIP, stated that additional information and data is always beneficial for the insurance and health-care industries. Still, they each warned of the bill’s fairly prescriptive aims and its underlying premise to research a single geographic region system that may ultimately attempt to standardize costs across the state — a goal their organizations do not support.
Sen. Lundberg, too, offered some sharp words on the bill ahead of the committee’s vote. While agreeing that solutions for driving down the cost of care statewide is absolutely necessary, he stated that HB 16-1336 would not do that; and, similar to another health-care bill on which he previously voted no, the proposed law merely rearranges the chairs on a sinking ship.
“I’m not going to support this bill,” said Sen. Lundberg. “I believe it’s a false assurance that something is going to happen, but I don’t believe it will. My no-vote is, I’d say, a lone cry of ‘This isn’t going to do it.’”
Upon passage, those in attendance to speak on behalf of the proposed law posed for photos outside in the Capitol’s third-floor corridor. The bill now moves along in the process toward becoming a law when it goes up for second reading on the Senate floor as soon as later this week in attempting to obtain 18 of 35 senate votes to land on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk.
“I think the testimony today was just remarkable,” said Donovan. “Health care has become another mortgage to many, many people. We certainly need to continue to work toward bringing affordable health care to our communities and, I think, eliminating regional disparities. Things don’t add up, and we just would like to know why.”
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