Colorado’s House started debating a bill Thursday that aims to create a standardized health benefit plan to provide individuals and small businesses in the state with a lower-cost, higher-quality health insurance option.
While debate was expected to last well into the evening, a vote in the House, where Democrats hold a solid majority, could come as soon as Friday.
“(This bill) is not a revamp of health care in Colorado,” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, said in his opening remarks about House Bill 1232, which he sponsored with Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.
“There’s going to be a lot of hyperbole today … that this bill is going to revolutionize and completely overthrow health care in Colorado. That is not true,” Roberts said. “This is a targeted approach at two small markets in our state that are having the most trouble with health insurance costs.”
The bill would direct Colorado’s insurance commissioner to develop a new standardized health benefit plan by January for the individual and small group markets on the state’s health insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado.
Starting in January 2023, insurance carriers would have to offer the standardized plan in counties where they currently offer coverage, at rates at least 6% less than the plans they offered in 2021. Additional premium reductions of 6% would be required for 2024 and 2025, totaling 18% over three years.
The bill has seen significant changes since its introduction.
The previous version would also have created a standardized health benefit plan, encouraging carriers to offer it and reduce premiums 20% over two years. But rather than require those reductions, the previous version would have authorized the state to create a quasi-governmental entity to offer the standardized plan as a competing Colorado public option if the industry failed to meet premium reduction goals — something dropped from the bill.
The changes were made to get major health care industry groups like the Colorado Hospital Association, the Colorado Association of Health Plans, the Academy of Family Physicians, and the Colorado Rural Health Alliance to drop their opposition.
Roberts said he and his rural colleagues represent people in areas with some of the highest insurance costs and fewest insurance choices in the state.
The standardized plan, he said, would only be offered on the individual market and the small group market, which offers plans for employers with fewer than 100 employees. Together, the two markets represent only about 15% of the state’s health insurance market.
“That’s not a lot, but for those living in that 15% of the state and facing extremely high health insurance prices, this bill will be important,” Roberts said. “There are constituents in my district and all over the state who are paying absolutely unaffordable premiums for themselves, their families, or their small businesses, and there are far many more who are going without insurance at all just because of what it costs. We can do better in Colorado.”
Roberts and other supporters argue the bill would help families and small businesses with a lower cost, higher quality insurance option, helping them get needed medical care, and benefiting hospitals and doctors by helping ensure they get paid for care they provide.
“Let’s pass this bill so more people can have the security of health insurance and go see our state’s incredible doctors, go to our state’s top notch hospitals and get the care they need,” Roberts said.
During early debate Thursday morning, some legislators spoke in favor of the bill, some railed against it and some said they have questions they want answered.
Rep. Andres Pico, R-Colorado Springs, voiced his “vehement opposition” to the bill. He agreed health care costs are too high, but argued they are too high because of government regulation, which House Bill 1232 would only make worse, calling it “economic warfare on a critical part of our economy.”
Rep. Mark Baisley, R-Roxborough Park, said he opposes the state picking an industry and forcing it to lower prices.
“If that’s our proper role, why would we stop with health care? Housing sure is expensive. How about we mandate 18% less on all housing starting here forward, and let’s mandate that by law,” he said.
Baisley argued Colorado already has some of the lowest insurance premiums and best medical care in the country, and that the bill would drive hospitals and doctors out of the state. At one point he read a quote from Kaiser Permanente, saying it would have to eliminate its hospital coverage in order to meet the 18% reduction target.
“This is not a smart move for us to be voting yes on this bill,” Baisley said. “Is it a smart move for us to pursue lowering health care costs in Colorado? Of course it is, and that’s an agreement we can all start with. But we should not be moving down the government regulated, government enforced, nationalized system that this presents.”
Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, was among the bill’s supporters, urging colleagues to pass the measure. She said cost and access to health care is the no. 1 issue that she has heard about on the Western Slope.
“I commend the bill sponsors for the hours upon hours they have spent working with providers, carriers and everyone in the health care system who understands the complexities of the system far better than I do,” McCluskie said. “I really do believe this was and is a meeting of the minds, a best effort to do something right for those Coloradans who can’t stand here today and say their health care coverage is OK.”
The House was scheduled to resume its debate on the bill Thursday evening, with a long night of debate and proposed amendments and a final vote possibly coming as soon as Friday. If passed by the House, the bill would then go to the Senate, where Democrats hold a slimmer majority.
Rep. Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs, said he’s looking forward to the debate to get questions about the bill answered. “… Because we’ve had, I know in my area, a lot of concerns about this bill,” he said. “We’ve got legitimate concerns and we’re going to read off some of these concerns from specific groups. … So hopefully we can get these answers, of why we have so many people contacting us with concerns.“
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.