The cost of health insurance, especially pricey on the Western Slope, is clearly on voters’ minds, and that was reflected Tuesday night at a candidates forum for state Senate District 6 and state House District 59.
State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, running for her second term in the state House, said an effort to create a single health-cost rating structure for Colorado has failed in the Legislature largely on a rural-urban split.
A single statewide rating structure would raise insurance premiums on the Front Range but lower them on the Western Slope. However, proposals to create a single statewide rating structure have always been defeated by Front Range lawmakers, she said.
“We have more arguments between rural and urban than we do between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, and they don’t want their rates to go up, but they don’t want to see ours come down either,” she said.
Her opponent, Paul Jones, a Gunnison independent, said the state should look at establishing a nonprofit health insurance company.
“In a for-profit model, you’re generating profits for shareholders. In a nonprofit insurance organization, you could reinvest profits to provide for better medical care,” he said.
Jones was the only candidate who didn’t cite health costs as the top issue in the district. Instead, he cited the budgetary pressures put on the state by three conflicting constitutional amendments that handcuff lawmakers’ freedom in formulating annual state budgets.
No Republican candidate is running for state House District 59.
State Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, looking for a second term in office, said the state should look at making larger insurance pools to bring down rates.
As an example, he said if the state allowed one insurance pool for all 42 electricity providers that are members of Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the larger pool of insured people would create cheaper rates.
He also noted the rural-urban split that has hurt past efforts to reduce the cost of health insurance on the Western Slope.
“We’re a minority of about 12 rural legislators, and it seems to be our urban cousins do not want to raise their health care costs to help us out,” he said.
Coram’s opponent, Guinn Unger, a Bayfield Democrat who is a member of the La Plata Electric Association board of directors, said the long-term solution is “a national, universal health care plan.”
“This whole idea that you can do this through bigger pools or different insurance schemes just doesn’t work. Again, the ultimate solution is a national Medicare-for-all-type solution,” he said.
Until the country adopts that type of system, Unger said he would push to narrow the price discrepancy between the Front Range and the Western Slope.
“If we were paying the same rates as the Front Range, we’d be a whole lot better off, and again, I know that’s not going to be an easy lift,” he said. “That’s going to be something that’s very difficult to do, but that would be where I would put a great deal of energy in the beginning.”