When I’m in Southwest Colorado, the No. 1 thing I hear from folks is that they’re tired of getting ripped off on the cost of health care.
From skyrocketing premiums to out-of-control prescription drug prices, to outrageously high surprise hospital bills, families across Colorado are feeling squeezed by our high-cost health care system, despite our state’s strong economic growth, and residents of Southwestern Colorado pay some of the highest rates not just in the state but in the country.
So I made lowering health care costs one of my top priorities in my first year in office.
Thankfully, our bipartisan work is paying off to the tune of thousands of dollars in savings for Coloradans across our state.
Thanks to the bipartisan work of state Sens. Kerry Donovan and Bob Rankin, and Reps. Julie McCluskie and Janice Rich – all from Western Colorado – premiums will be going down for the first time in the history of Colorado’s health exchange.
In La Plata County, premiums for people who buy their own insurance on Colorado’s health exchange will go down by an average of 32.6% for a family of four. That’s transformational savings.
Across the rest of our Western Slope communities, rates for those who buy their own insurance will decrease by an average of 30%, with a monthly average savings of $858 and a yearly average savings of $10,302.
Think of what Southwestern Colorado families can do with that extra money!
So how did we pull it off?
We worked together in a bipartisan way to pass a policy called reinsurance.
Before we passed this policy, health insurance companies would keep insurance rates high to protect themselves from losses incurred from treating the highest-cost patients.
By setting up a reinsurance pool, insurance companies can better protect themselves from potential losses. And when insurance companies have more certainty and stability, they have the flexibility to reduce premiums for consumers.
And even though only about 8% of Coloradans buy their own health insurance from the Connect For Health CO exchange, reinsurance will help all Coloradans in the long run.
When premiums on the health exchange go down, more people can afford to purchase coverage. And when more people are covered, hospitals and doctors aren’t stuck with the bill for uninsured patients, which they pass along to others – and so, costs go down for everyone.
Lower premiums on the state’s health exchange will also create more competition in the insurance market, which will put pressure on insurance companies to offer better rates on employer-based health coverage.
This is a huge step in the right direction, but it’s just one part of our agenda to reduce health care costs.
This year, we passed legislation to tackle surprise out-of-network billing.
We passed a landmark hospital transparency bill that will finally allow us to identify and address the key drivers of sky-high hospital bills.
We capped insulin prices at $100 out of pocket per month; before the law, Coloradans with diabetes were being charged as much as $600 to $900 for a month’s supply simply because they needed the medicine to live.
We passed a plan to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada to save people money; this proposal is currently awaiting approval by the Trump administration.
Most importantly, we laid the groundwork for a state-based insurance option – also known as a public option – to give Coloradans more freedom and choice when it comes to selecting a health care plan.
A public option will be a lifeline to rural communities because it will inject needed competition into the local health care marketplace where there may be only one or two insurance companies. More competition equals lower prices for consumers.
Finally, we’re supporting local innovations in health care that save people money. In Summit County, there’s something called the Peak Health Alliance – a group of individuals, small employers and large employers who banded together to negotiate for lower health care costs from hospitals, which led to double-digit reductions in insurance premiums.
This consumer purchasing alliance model has been so successful, we are already supporting its replication right here in Southwest Colorado in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties. We are working to offer health care plans through this new Southwestern Colorado alliance starting in 2021 for individuals and 2022 for small businesses, and we hope to deliver savings for as many as 20,000 people in the region, including businesses.
Families in Southwestern Colorado – and throughout our state – have suffered from high health care costs for far too long; rest assured we will continue to take bold action to save you money on health care.
Jared Polis is the governor of Colorado.