Guest commentary: We can map path to more affordable health care

Dylan Roberts and Kerry Donovan
Guest commentary

March 5 marked one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Colorado. As we take time to grieve lives lost and sacrifices made, it is important that we reflect on the inequities that this pandemic threw into light.

For everyone in the Roaring Fork Valley who faced adversity during the pandemic, the crisis of prohibitively expensive health care has become personal. We have reached an inflection point.

Colorado has some of the highest health insurance costs in the nation and for many parts of our state, including Roaring Fork Valley, little-to-no choice on the individual market. Eighty-nine percent of uninsured Coloradans say price is the reason they lack insurance and 1-in-6 Colorado counties only have one plan on the individual market.

According to the 2019 Colorado Health Access Survey, mountain regions have the highest uninsured rates in the state. In 2019, the Roaring Fork Valley had an uninsured rate of 14.3% — 5.1 points worse than the national average. With the onset of the pandemic and the subsequent job loss, those numbers have gotten worse.

That is unacceptable. As legislators, it is our job to find solutions and come to the table with bold ideas, and that’s why we are introducing a bill to lower health insurance costs and increase access to care.

We are asking the health care industry to meet us halfway. This bill gives the free market two and half years to lower costs on the individual market, aiming for a 20% reduction in monthly premiums by the end of 2024. If the industry can meet the reduction goal, then we will all benefit from lower cost insurance plans available in every county. But if they cannot or will not meet the goal, the state will offer the Colorado Option: an insurance plan for the individual and small-group market available in every county at an affordable price for those who choose to buy it.

Phase one allows the health care industry time to recover from COVID and to work collaboratively to save Coloradans money on their healthcare. Phase two provides a fallback — the state will ensure a new, affordable health insurance option becomes widely available.

In both cases, Coloradans win — those who need care will be able to access it and those who like their current coverage can stay on it. Increased affordability, covered essential health benefits, and affordable deductibles become available to everyone. Those who stick with their current insurance will also reap the benefits; studies show that a public option will lower premiums across our state by 9% to 18% for everyone.

The bill also addresses disparities that are tied to race, income, disability, or location. Further, the plan will bolster small hospitals doing vital work for little-to-no profit. And importantly, this will all be done without raising taxes.

Unsurprisingly, national special interest groups have dumped dark money into fighting this bill. Your screens are already being bombarded by a multi-million-dollar ad campaign to spread misinformation. Don’t fall for it. This negative campaign is bankrolled by big out-of-state corporations that are protecting the status quo: a system that reaps massive profits for executives but has left too many of our neighbors without adequate or affordable health care.

Many people have come to the virtual table to debate and discuss this proposal and we are grateful for their voices. With their collaboration, we can make Coloradans healthier and save them money.

In Colorado, we do not shy away from tackling our biggest challenges and we know that there’s no problem we cannot solve when we join forces. Let’s get to work.

Rep. Dylan Roberts (Eagle) and Sen. Kerry Donovan (Eagle & Pitkin) represent the Roaring Fork Valley in the Colorado General Assembly.