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Public option bill delayed after hours of testimony to House committee | Legislature

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After several tries, the bill to set up the Colorado Option Health Benefit Plan got its first hearing Friday in the House Health & Insurance Committee in a 10-hour hearing that drew more than 100 witnesses. 

But negotiations that went on all day Friday between sponsors and the healthcare industry means action on the bill — including amendments — will be delayed until next Tuesday.

As introduced, House Bill 1232 gives the healthcare industry — doctors, hospitals and health insurers — two years to reduce health insurance premiums by 20% (10% per year) in the individual and small group market. The individual market is about 8% of insured Coloradans; the small group market, which is small businesses with 1 to 100 employees, is about 15% of insured Coloradans.

If the premium targets are not met after two years, in the third year, the Commissioner of Insurance would come up with the Colorado Option Health Benefit Plan, with its major provision setting price caps on health care services provided by hospitals and doctors. 

Hospitals, doctors and insurers would be required, under the bill as introduced, to offer the option plan. Hospitals and doctors that refuse could risk their licenses.

The goal of HB 1232 is to promote equity within the healthcare market, to address deficits in health care for rural Coloradans, underrepresented minorities and undocumented immigrants.

“No one is forced” into buying into the Colorado Option, said bill cosponsor Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Vail. Should this bill pass, regardless of race, income, geography or immigration status, Coloradans who buy their insurance to the individual market will see cheaper premiums and fewer out-of-pocket costs with better coverage, Roberts told the committee. One estimate claimed 18,000 Coloradans would be able to gain health care coverage under the bill. 

Dozens of doctors, hospital officials and health insurance plan executives testified that the bill’s premium target is unattainable, is not based on any actuarial analysis and will result in shifting health care costs to employers in the large group market. On the other side, small business owners and consumer health advocates said health care costs are too high and, as a result, too many Coloradans cannot afford health insurance, or have it and can’t use it because of cost. 

Karla Gonzales Garcia of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, testified in favor of providing healthcare for undocumented immigrants and people of color. The state “must do more to create an option that won’t only work for white people, rich people, or for people for whom the systems have always worked,” she said.

The bill drew opposition from several unions, including the Pipefitters Local 208, a frequent donor to Democratic lawmakers, and the Service International Employees Union, which represents healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente. 

Several hospital and health plan officials agree that health care costs are too high, including Dean Sanpei of Centura Health.

“We agree with the goal of lowering healthcare costs. We have concerns about the way the bill proposes to get there,” he said.

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