When Jared Polis first approached me about the possibility of serving as Colorado’s next lieutenant governor, he asked what motivated me to enter public service. So I told him my story:
I was 38 years old, living in Colorado, raising two kids. I had barely been sick a day in my life when one afternoon I felt a lump on my breast. I went to the doctor, who did a biopsy while reassuring me it was “probably nothing.”
It wasn’t nothing. It was cancer.
Cancer turns your life upside down in all kinds of ways that you might not think about until you or someone you love goes through it. I lost my job and had to figure out how to put food on the table for my kids, who had to cope with the prospect that their mom could die.
That was 1988. The doctors told me I would be dead within five years. But 30 years and four battles with cancer later, here I am – cancer-free, spending weekends with my granddaughter and dancing five nights a week.
I’m not telling this story because it’s unique. The opposite, actually. The challenges I faced are all too common in today’s health care system, in Durango and across Colorado. That’s why I’ve spent the last 30 years as a patient advocate. And it’s why the first thing Polis and I did after I joined him as his running mate was go on a health care listening tour across Western Colorado.
The stories we heard were the stories of a broken system. People get sick through no fault of their own, and then, when they most need help, they meet one roadblock after another. Insurance companies try to get out of paying for your care – or out of insuring you altogether. The specialist you need isn’t anywhere near your ZIP code, much less in your provider network. Somehow, your financial future hangs in the balance of a mountain of paperwork you need to wade through at the same time you cope with chemotherapy.
So what can we do about it? After our discussions with Coloradans over the last two weeks, here are some of the solutions Polis and I have put forward.
First, we need to tackle the cost. For many Coloradans, the cost of prescription drugs is untenable. We can combat this problem by enabling safe drug importation and holding companies accountable that engage in price gouging.
We can also ensure that no family has just a single insurance provider to “choose” from – because that just incentivizes ripping consumers off. By bringing more public and nonprofit options to Colorado’s insurance exchange, we’ll expand choice while lowering cost.
And Polis and I both believe that over the long-term, the best cost-saving solution will be partnering with neighboring states on a collaborative system that offers high-quality coverage at the lowest price.
Second, Coloradans who get sick shouldn’t lose their paycheck. Our goal is to guarantee paid time off for Coloradans who get sick or need to take care of loved ones.
Third, many rural Coloradans lack access to the care they need, even if they can afford it. We need more health clinics and community health centers with specialty providers. We can bring them here by investing in mobile health clinics that travel between underserved communities, and creating health care “special districts” that enable Colorado counties to build permanent facilities. We also must improve access to telemedicine, which means closing the gaps in broadband internet service.
Finally, a deeply personal issue for many families we spoke with is mental health. It’s deeply personal to me, too – my brother dealt with mental illness throughout his adult life. We need to ensure all communities have the resources and health infrastructure to prevent and treat mental illness.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among young Coloradans, and Southwest Colorado tragically has some of the highest rates – a heartbreaking fact illustrating how important it is to invest in mental health services beginning in childhood. Polis and I are committed to making sure every public school in our state is equipped to identify and assist students in crisis.
Nothing is more personal to us than our health, or the health of our loved ones. Let’s work together to build a system that saves us money while putting our lives and our families’ lives first in our time of greatest need.
Dianne Primavera is a former state representative, a patient advocate and the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.