Gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis reveals 100-day plan to improve health care in Colorado

Eli Pace
Summit Daily
Running for Colorado governor, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, announces his health care plan in front of office of Dr. Christine A. Ebert-Santos on Monday, Sept. 17, in Frisco.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily


Colorado gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis unveiled a 100-day roadmap designed to improve access to health care and reduce the cost. Listed below are some of the key points in the plan.

• Strengthen the Division of Insurance’s role as consumer watchdog

• Create a statewide geographic rating and reconfiguration of rating zones with protections for rural areas

• Establish a reinsurance program to spread out the risk among insurers

• Make hospital visits more affordable

• End prescription drug price gouging

• Reform payment methods, including bundling Medicaid payments and setting “global budgets” to give hospitals a set amount of revenue for a set period of time

• Close gaps in access by providing immediate seed funding for incentivizing small providers to open clinics in rural Colorado

• Cut red tape preventing good providers from moving to Colorado by improving the reciprocity of licensing for physicians, nurses and other health care providers

• Support telemedicine as a way to serve rural areas and reduce costs

• Direct the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to examine the expansion of the Colorado Health Service Corps loan repayment program

• Expand access to mental health services by making it easier for providers to get reimbursements and join insurance networks

• Direct the Division of Insurance to strengthen enforcement of federal and state law requiring that mental and physical care be covered in equally by insurance plans

• Ensure children have access to mental health care resources at school

• Support counties and municipalities, such as Eagle County, in their efforts to create a toolbox for local campaigns to fund development of clinics through marijuana tax initiatives.

• Implement Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan to use Medicaid funds to pay for substance-use-disorder and behavioral-health services

• Direct the Department of Public Health to examine the public health impacts of gun violence in Colorado, with a focus on deaths by suicide.

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Saying it could save Coloradans up to 40 percent or more on their health care costs, gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis rolled out a 100-day, multi-point roadmap Monday in Frisco to reform the state’s health care system.

Winning the democratic primary in June, the congressman from Boulder is set to face Republican Walker Stapleton in the November election. While many in the GOP believe surging state and national economies will rank high on voters’ minds at the ballot box, Colorado Democrats are appealing to people with promises of lowering the cost health care and framing it as an economic issue.

“You know, health care is an important issue because it’s a big part of our economy and it’s a big cost factor that affects Colorado families,” Polis said before his running mate, Dianne Primavera, added that the Medicaid expansion brought roughly 20,000 new jobs to Colorado alone.

Polis decided to roll out his plan at the Ebert Family Clinic in Frisco, he said, because of Summit County’s unique position as a superbly healthy community that pays too much for health care.

By almost every measure, Summit is one of the healthiest places in the U.S. The county has earned a No. 1 nationwide ranking for life expectancy, has one of the lowest cancer mortality rates and stands as one of the leanest counties in the country’s fittest state.

Despite all that, Summit still has some of the highest health care costs in the U.S. with locals often paying three to five times what they would for the same care on the Front Range. Those costs are frequently passed onto consumers in the form of higher health insurance premiums here, too.

On Monday, Polis recalled deciding to run for governor last year at about the same time President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers were trying to unravel the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “Obamacare.”

“That really drove home for me that leadership on the issue of health care wasn’t going to come from Washington,” Polis said, flanked by a handful of state and local officials Monday in Frisco.

“Thankfully, we were successful at defending the protections we had, but real leadership in saving people money and expanding coverage will come from Colorado,” he offered.

Now, Polis said he wants to incentivize small practices in rural communities, ensure better access to mental health care across the state and target pharmaceutical companies that price gouge consumers.

“We all know that when it comes to prescription drugs, we’re being ripped off — Coloradans and Americans,” Polis said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous that Americans and Coloradans should be paying five, six, seven times as much for the exact same prescription drug.”

To help the situation, he suggested allowing prescription drug imports from Canada and cracking down on pharmaceutical companies by making them explain price increases that vastly exceed inflation. Polis also said he wants to penalize “bad-actor manufacturers” and improve pricing transparency by requiring drug-makers to publicly disclose their prices and all the factors that went into setting them.

As for the disproportionately high premiums on health insurance in some of Colorado’s rural and mountain communities, such as people living in Frisco paying twice what their neighbors in Georgetown do though they are less than 30 miles apart, Polis said he’d reconfigure geographic rating zones to force more equitable prices.

“It’s a fixable problem,” he said. “It’s an irrational problem that makes no sense. We will fix it.”

Polis mentioned ending a shortage of medical providers that’s plaguing rural Colorado, strengthen the Division of Insurance’s role as a consumer watchdog and ensuring the state meets the needs of people living with disabilities.

“Look, together we’re going to build a health care system in Colorado that makes our state more competitive, saves money for businesses of all size, leaves no one behind and truly puts patients first,” Polis said.

The words “single-payer” are not mentioned anywhere in Polis’ plan. Still, his proposal is likely to become a political football even though the Democrat claimed he sought out good ideas from “across the political spectrum” for the plan.

At the same time, Stapleton’s campaign continued to attack the Democratic challenger, saying Polis has previously supported “a government-run, single-payer system, even though he has never provided any details on how to actually pay for it.”

“While Congressman Polis touts his radical, government-run health care ‘plan’ on the campaign trail, Coloradans should know he has no idea how to pay for or implement it,” said Jerrod Dobkin, a spokesman for the Stapleton campaign, in a prepared statement. “King Jared may think he can pull a fast one on voters, but it’s time Coloradans are introduced to the real Jared Polis: an above average salesman with no ability to deliver on the empty promises he sells.”

The effort to reduce the cost of health care in Colorado is not new. A bill sponsored by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, in the 2017 legislative session would have temporarily expanded who’s eligible for subsidies to offset high premiums. The bill passed the state House but couldn’t make it through the Senate’s Republican-controlled State Affairs Committee, also known as “The Kill Committee.”

After Monday’s unveiling of Polis’ roadmap, state Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, recalled the bill and offered an analysis for why it failed.

“It’s a little bit of a special interest game where sometimes special interests can get things killed that they don’t like,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to have to keep working to overcome that, but it would be easier if we had Democratic majorities in both chambers.”

Kennedy vowed he’d keep trying to work across party lines on health care. But having a Democrat in the governor’s office probably wouldn’t hurt, either.