Now’s The Time If You Want To Comment On A State Health Insurance Option

Dr. Michael Russum, Ruby Giron
David Zalubowski/AP
Dr. Michael Russum, left, checks patient Ruby Giron in Denver Health Medical Center’s primary care clinic located in a low-income neighborhood in southwest Denver, March 9, 2017.

Colorado health officials have released a plan for a new health insurance option they say will help reduce costs. The public and stakeholders now get a chance to weigh in before a final draft goes to state lawmakers in November.

Top health officials in the Gov. Jared Polis administration describe what they call the "State Option" as a public-private partnership. It would develop a new affordable health insurance option they say would save up to 18 percent on individual premiums.

Plans would be administered by insurance companies and sold on Connect For Health Colorado, the state health insurance exchange.

A chance for the public to comment on the plan ends Oct. 25, 2019. Feedback can be submitted via a state website or email.

The state is accepting written comments about the report and its proposals. The Colorado Division of Insurance and Department of Health Care Policy and Financing will review comments and finalize a report, which will be handed to state lawmakers on Nov. 15.

“The stakeholder process was instrumental in crafting the draft solution. I’m proud of the thoughtful contributions made by Coloradans, hospitals, doctors, and employers across the state,” said HCPF Executive Director Kim Bimestefer.

Gov. Polis said the idea should bring more choices, more competition and lower insurance rates

“I look forward to working with the legislature and key stakeholders to implement this program so Coloradans can start saving more money on health care,” Polis said in a statement.

The release of the draft proposal comes as the Polis administration and state Democrats continue to spotlight health reforms in a push to address rising health costs. The governor and Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera are expected to announce the state's 2020 health insurance rates from the steps of the state capitol Thursday. In July, administration officials projected premiums would drop 18 percent on average due to a proposed reinsurance program — which basically acts as insurance for insurers by offsetting the cost of covering people with high medical costs.

The State Option draft plan already is drawing mixed reviews.

Colorado Hospital Association Executive Vice President Chris Tholen said several components of the plan “give us cause for concern.” He warned by “opening this public option to all Coloradans, there is the potential to significantly damage the health insurance market in our state.”

Tholen said under the current draft, patients could choose to leave their current coverage to choose the public option, which might “destabilize” the health insurance market.

The CHA also said it’s “skeptical” about what appears to be the first step toward price control in health care as well as the potential to make provider participation mandatory. Tholen warned it could cause unintended consequences.

A key state consumer health group, however, disagrees.

The draft proposal is “a great start to bring a more affordable health coverage option to our state,” said Adela Flores-Brennan, executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group representing dozens of Colorado health organizations. “The structure proposed in this initial plan will make use of a familiar infrastructure and add new insurance options that have additional affordability, transparency and accountability components.”

She said the new coverage could help many Coloradans struggling to find competitively priced insurance options in their communities.

Supporting materials in the state proposal clearly call out hospitals for what officials said were higher hospital prices in the state than the national average as well as rising administrative costs. Colorado hospitals charge an average of 289 percent of what Medicare pays for services, which is higher than most other states.

“We have to build a more rational health care system,” said Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway.

Hospitals have pushed back on that criticism saying Colorado’s high health costs are driven in part of the state’s relatively high cost of living.

The new insurance option would be available in 2022.