Opinion | Linda Harmon: Finally Summit County will see some relief

I recently returned from an extended trip to Mexico where I personally experienced this country’s remarkable health care system. While I was impressed by both the low cost and high-level services, I was dismayed to think about the cost and state of health care in Summit County.

To personally witness how inexpensively Mexico provides comparable health care was troubling, until I learned more about the new legislation sponsored by Democratic Colorado State Senate candidate Dylan Roberts and signed into law by Governor Polis, HB 21-1232, the Standardized Health Benefit Plan Colorado Option. Although this bill doesn’t have everything Roberts originally envisioned, it will help make health care costs in Colorado’s mountain and rural areas much more affordable.

This new legislation aims to reduce insurance premiums for individuals and small group markets. Since Summit County residents pay some of the highest rates in Colorado for health insurance, this could make a difference. 

Honestly, at one point recently, due to the cost and the lack of choices in the insurance market, I seriously considered not having health insurance. I am not alone, for many of our lower paid employees, insurance is a luxury they cannot afford. But thanks to Roberts and his commitment to addressing this issue, there is hope for more reasonable prices in health care.

Here’s how it will work. The Colorado Option will be available to all residents through the Healthcare Marketplace. This program will require health care insurance carriers to offer standardized health benefits plans by 2023 that are 5% less that the premium rate for 2021. In 2024, the cost needs to be 10% less than the 2021 rate and in 2025 it needs to be reduced by 15%. From that point forward, the rates must not increase above the premium in the previous year or no more than medical inflation.

During open enrollment in the fall of 2022, the Healthcare Marketplace will allow Colorado residents to choose between the regular commercial products or the new Colorado Option. The Colorado Option pricing for 2023 will have the 5% discount.

This is a beginning and shows baby steps toward more affordable health care in Colorado. I greatly applaud the tremendous efforts of Roberts and State Representative Julie McCluskie to bring more affordable health care to Summit and the mountain communities, but it is also very frustrating.

As I researched this legislation, I learned that the bill’s original version included pursuing lower reimbursement rates paid to hospitals. However, the Colorado Hospital Association opposed that part of the bill. Additionally, during the first round of the legislation, national health care groups spent considerable money on ads opposing the bill. This resulted in the legislation having less meat and benefits to get it passed through the state legislature. Roberts said, “my commitment to my constituents was to get them a new choice and lower costs and I am happy we were able to get that done.” 

Several of Colorado’s largest hospital systems are so-called nonprofits, yet their CEOs are paid considerably more than $1 million dollars annually. This includes Centura Health, serving Summit County. Perhaps if some of these CEOs would take a little less pay for the greater good, elected officials like Roberts and McCluskie could make an even greater difference for those they represent. “We made the compromises because we really wanted something to pass and now, we have another option for our residents,” said Roberts.

According to a survey conducted by the West Health and Gallup Group, almost one fifth of Americans or 46 million people cannot afford necessary health care services. Many of those surveyed also reported that they had to cut back on food and utilities to afford health care. I am sure with the large number of tourism workers in Summit County, plenty of our residents fall into this category.

I am grateful for the tenacity of our Democratic leaders locally and statewide who continue to fight the good fight to bring cheaper health care to Summit County residents. I hope county residents will reward Roberts and McCluskie in November by voting for him to be our new State Senator and McCluskie to continue on as State Representative. Without their efforts, as well as those of Governor Polis, we wouldn’t have made even this progress.

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