Hickenlooper, other governors release health plan

Friday, March 2, 2018 8:30 AM
Govs. John Hickenlooper, center, John Kasich, left, and Bill Walker introduce a new bipartisan health care solution Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The governors said the government must address rising health care costs.

WASHINGTON – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joined two other governors Friday morning in unveiling a “bipartisan blueprint” focused on decreasing costs and restoring stability in the health care markets created under the Affordable Care Act.

Hickenlooper, John Kasich, R-Ohio, and Bill Walker, I-Alaska, released their plan on health care at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., after spending much of the past year leading a large contingent of statewide officials calling on Washington to stabilize health care markets.

The governors emphasized the importance of eliminating fee-for-service care, in which doctors and hospitals get paid for every treatment they prescribe. Instead, the governors are looking for an industry-wide shift to value-based care, or quality care, in which providers are reimbursed for the effectiveness of the treatment.

“(Currently) they’re getting paid more when people are still sick,” Hickenlooper said. “Our goal is to make sure that there’s an incentive and the appropriate motivation to make sure that (this) imbalance in the system is changed.”

The outline refers to the importance of cost-control as the governors’ “greatest priority.” In an effort to decrease costs, the governors want the federal government to allow states more flexibility in designing their Medicaid program.

Hickenlooper said increased access to primary care is a priority to allow residents to better control their own future health care costs through preventative care. He said it’s imperative that the government is involved in the expansion.

“Everyone deserves that chance (for) better health care, but they can’t just do it by themselves,” Hickenlooper said. “Without the support, it would be like trying to ski down one of our mountains without any boots.”

In Ohio, Kasich wants states to have the power to kick providers out of the state Medicaid program if they refuse to negotiate costs.

“It’s out of control,” Kasich said. “There’s a lack of competition. There’s no pressure.”

He also highlighted an Ohio program that offers bonuses to primary care providers that offer better health care for a lower cost.

By focusing on cost-control, Kasich believes the plan will save the federal government $1 trillion in Medicaid costs. But Kasich said the government, both state and federal, isn’t the only institution that bears the burden of reducing health care costs.

“There is no excuse for fee-for-service medicine that pays for quantity when an employee or associate can get great quality at a lower price,” he said.

The trio stressed the importance of reducing premiums and stabilizing insurance premiums. Although 94 percent of Coloradans are insured, costs are still significantly higher. Hickenlooper highlighted the specific case of a Colorado man who makes less than $50,000 a year but pays one-third of that in insurance premiums.

“The field has been tilted against the middle class,” Hickenlooper said. “I think the plan that we’re proposing today will help address some of those inequities.”

The governors’ outline is light on policy specifics on how they want to lower premiums, but they hope to increase competition in markets and encourage increased enrollment.

The health care blueprint is also supported by Govs. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., and Tom Wolf, D-Penn. All five governors lead states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA, which gave health insurance to thousands of low-income Americans.

“The solution to health care is not a partisan issue,” Walker said. “It’s a human issue.”

The release of their health plan comes as the nation’s governors converge in Washington for the National Governors Association’s annual winter meeting, where state executives meet to discuss pressing issues in their states. Health care costs are a major concern in many states.

Hickenlooper and Kasich have forged a unique bipartisan relationship in recent months, joining forces over the past year to call on Washington to stabilize the ACA, instead of repealing the law, which would have resulted in thousands of uninsured in their states.

It is uncertain what action Congress or the executive branch will take on the ACA this year. But one thing is certain: Instability will continue in the ACA markets, as no legislative action has been taken to shore them up.

Last summer, Hickenlooper and Kasich led a bipartisan group of governors in opposition to the Republican’s attempt to repeal the ACA last summer. In August, weeks after repeal efforts failed, Kasich and Hickenlooper announced their own health care plan that centered on stabilizing the individual markets, where premiums have consistently been rising by double digits every year.

Their plan received support from six other governors, including one Republican, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Walker, the independent.

“A bipartisan approach to a policy issue as complex and as difficult as this one is the only solution that will bear fruit,” Hickenlooper said.

Andrew Eversden is an intern with The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.