DENVER – Members of a commission created to study the cost of health care in Colorado agreed Friday they shouldn’t let political ailments cripple the goals of the study group.
The newly-formed, 17-member, three-year Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care met for the first time Friday, highlighting the monumental challenge of recommending policy to lower the cost of health care.
The commission was born out of a bipartisan legislative measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, this year.
“The task in front of you is Herculean. Tempers might flare, or differences of opinion might surface every single meeting,” Roberts said at the beginning of the discussion.
The commission is charged with studying health-care cost drivers and recommending solutions for lowering costs.
Members began meeting amid a hotly-contested political season in which the Affordable Care Act is continually being judged.
Just on Thursday, the Colorado Division of Insurance reported an estimated 2,100 health-plan cancellations in the state during the past two months. Since 2013, there have been more than 337,000 cancellations in Colorado.
Health-reform supporters point out that about 92 percent of those receiving cancellations were offered renewal options. Consumers, in some cases, could purchase better and cheaper policies on the new Connect for Health Colorado online insurance marketplace.
Given the politics around the issue, commission members are hoping that conversations can stay grounded in policy.
“If we don’t stick to the groundwork that’s laid out today, I can easily see it going awry politically.” said Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, who attended the meeting because she co-sponsored the measure that created the commission. Stephens also sponsored legislation in 2011 that created the insurance exchange in Colorado.
“If it doesn’t go the way you want, this will devolve very quickly into a political exercise and political posturing, and I don’t think that was the purpose, nor the reason that the bill was won,” Stephens said.
Skyrocketing health-care costs is one of the biggest challenges facing families, business and government in Colorado. The average yearly premium for a family with private insurance nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.
The issue has especially affected mountain communities and rural Colorado, with some of the highest insurance rates in the nation.
“One of the things we didn’t do was tackle the challenges of health-care costs,” Roberts said. “In my district, having a health insurance card doesn’t mean you get care. ... You can give somebody a Medicaid card, but if there’s not a Medicaid provider, it all goes back to the cost issue.”
Steve ErkenBrack, president and chief executive of Grand Junction-based Rocky Mountain Health Plans, a nonprofit insurance provider that serves rural Colorado, said reform is dependent on all stakeholders agreeing that there is a need for change.
“What will prevent success is trying to protect turf,” ErkenBrack said. “There is a boatload of money in health care, we all know that, and we’re all going to look at this and say, ‘Don’t be trying to cut my bottom line.’
“Turf can be more than economic; it can be ideological,” he continued. “We need to all, as a commission, reach beyond that.”
ErkenBrack said there needs to be a shift toward a more community-based focus on health-care reform. He pointed to a program in Grand Junction called “B4 Babies & Beyond,” which provides access to health-care insurance for pregnant women and children who do not have insurance, with a focus on prenatal care. The result has been fewer premature babies, which lowers costs.
“It is such a challenge to not only lower costs but to do so in a high quality way, and that is the lesson of Western Colorado,” ErkenBrack said. “There are ways to lower cost and actually create higher quality.”
Commissioner of Insurance Marguerite Salazar said one of the most frustrating things for her is having little control over health-care costs.
“As we started looking at those costs, we knew that I certainly didn’t have any authority over that,” she said. “So, I am so excited to be a part of this commission.
“It’s going to take a while,” Salazar said. “Because you can’t turn a ship as strong and big as what we’re trying to navigate real quickly.”