Hickenlooper talks health care, differences between him and opponent Gardner | AspenTimes.com

Hickenlooper talks health care, differences between him and opponent Gardner

Tom Lotshaw
Vail Daily

AVON — At a campaign stop Wednesday in Avon, U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper tried to paint a stark contrast on the issue of health care between himself and his Republican opponent, Sen. Cory Gardner.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former Colorado governor, touted his role in expanding Medicaid in the state and setting up health insurance exchanges to cover more Coloradans, arguing the federal government needs to take a leadership role to improve the Affordable Care Act and create a public option to expand access to health care and reduce patient costs.

Meanwhile, Hickenlooper said, Gardner and his Republican allies in the U.S. Senate and White House are showing “reckless nonchalance” about health care even as the country continues to grapple with a coronavirus pandemic that has forced tens of millions of people out of work and caused them to lose their employer-based health insurance.

“The bottom line is (Cory Gardner) continues to support Donald Trump’s lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to eviscerate it, to dismantle it,” Hickenlooper said. “He said he has a bill that would provide protections for people with preexisting medical conditions, but that has been debunked. There is nothing in that bill that will give people protections if they have preexisting conditions if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.”

Hickenlooper also said Gardner was hiding behind negative campaign ads instead of providing answers to Coloradans.

“The fact that Cory won’t speak up on any of these health care issues, I call it a cowardly silence, his unwillingness to even broach the subject because he doesn’t have an answer,” Hickenlooper said. “And you may have noticed, the response to most of these things is a million-and-a-half dollars a week of attack ads. That’s not an answer, that’s not a policy at a time when this country desperately needs to step forward.”

Reached separately on Wednesday, Gardner’s campaign spokesman Jerrod Dobkin said: “Sen. Gardner consistently talks about lowering health care costs, strengthening innovation and expanding access for all Coloradans. While Gov. Hickenlooper and Democrats push for a one-size-fits-all, government-run approach, Sen. Gardner has focused his efforts on bipartisan, commonsense policies that improve health care for Coloradans.”

Local lawmakers, officials weigh in

The health care-focused campaign stop, held on the patio at Pazzo’s Pizzeria, was also attended by State Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail), State Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon), Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry, Vail Health CEO Will Cook, and Ross Brooks, the CEO of Mountain Family Health Centers.

Chandler-Henry said improving access to affordable health care is an issue that continues to stymie Eagle County. “It’s a national issue and we really need national leadership to be able to make progress on health care,” she said.

Donovan and Roberts were primary sponsors of legislation to create a public health insurance option in Colorado. That bill was shelved this spring because of the coronavirus outbreak, and they said health care access and costs are the top issues they hear about from constituents.

“I think what I get frustrated about in this election season is that Cory Gardner and I came together into office at the same time. We ran in the same elections, we were on the road at identical times, we heard the same things at the doors and we heard the same things from voters across Colorado, and he has done nothing in six years,” Donovan said.

Next year, Eagle County and Routt County will continue to be two counties in Colorado that have only one health insurance option available on the state exchange.

“Because of that lack of competition, the prices just keep going up and up and up,” Roberts said.

“We’ve done some really great things at the state level like reinsurance to lower the cost, but people still have far too few options for health insurance in our communities. And in a time of a global pandemic that just doesn’t really make sense,” Roberts said. “People need to have more options, especially when they’re losing their job and they lose their employer-based health insurance. Now they don’t have an affordable option to go to.”

‘We have not solved insurance issues in Colorado’

As Democrats and Republicans vie for control of the U.S. Senate, Roberts said the election could not be more important for health care issues and “to start making progress rather than trying to tear down what we have.”

“We’re really looking forward to partnering with our federal partners instead of having somebody like Cory Gardner, who basically just wants to repeal everything when it comes to health care and coverage for people with preexisting conditions,” Roberts said. “We’re looking forward to making progress next year because we know coronavirus will still be here, we know we will be in a recession, and people need a cheaper option for health insurance. And that can come from a public option we’ve been working on at the state level, and hopefully, we can get it done on the national level.”

Molly and Barclay Rabin are friends of Donovan who attended Wednesday’s event, and two Eagle County residents struggling to make ends meet through the pandemic. They said they worked multiple jobs for years to be able to buy the smallest, cheapest condo they could find in the area, fix it up, sell it, and move into a deed-restricted unit in West Vail.

Both were laid off in March and lost their insurance. The health insurance available on the exchange is not affordable, and with 17-month-old twins who need regular immunizations and check-ups, the couple is struggling to pay their medical bills and mortgage. Molly Rabin started her own business, but that has yet to ease the financial strain.

“You want to be entrepreneurs in this country, you want to follow that American dream, but not knowing where your health insurance is going to come from or if you can afford it when you’re just starting out, it’s really intimidating,” she said.

Ross Brooks, CEO of Mountain Family Health Centers, said 37% of the 21,000 patients it serves regardless of their ability to pay have no health insurance, and the nonprofit has “struggled mightily financially” over the past year due to the large cost burden of serving the uninsured. Brooks’ wife is one of those uninsured patients.

“I’m embarrassed about that fact. I’m the CEO of the community health center and I can’t afford to insure my own wife. We have not solved insurance issues in Colorado,” Brooks said.

“Ultimately, I see at the state and federal level, we need to be pushing things like Medicaid and Medicare for all or Medicare and Medicaid for those who want it, to be a nice complement for the free market to do its job for the tens of thousands of people who can’t afford the free market option.”

Calling health care a right, Hickenlooper said the federal government needs to improve the Affordable Care Act — a job that has been stymied by Republicans for 10 years — allow Medicare to negotiate for bulk purchase discounts, and work toward creating a public option.

“This is going to be the issue as we go through this pandemic, and as a country we try to respond,” Hickenlooper said.

Polls have found Hickenlooper leading Gardner in the U.S. Senate race by 6% to 11%, according to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website.

Tom Lotshaw can be reached at tlotshaw@vaildaily.com.


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