Rural and mountain communities in Colorado have some of the highest insurance premiums in the country. Observers expect that lowering healthcare costs and making healthcare affordable will take place at the state level.
With voters clamoring for more affordable healthcare, Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday created the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care.
Citing soaring health insurance premiums in the state’s rural and mountain communities, the newly elected Polis said the office will work with the Democratic-controlled legislature to authorize a reinsurance program and develop lower-cost coverage options. His lieutenant governor, a healthcare expert, will be in charge of the office.
“We need to take action to really find and act on the root causes of skyrocketing healthcare costs,” he said in announcing the executive order.
But Polis may run into healthcare industry resistance with his push to have the office establish programs to reduce prescription drug prices and increase hospital price transparency. He has also said he would consider establishing a public health plan option such as a voluntary Medicaid buy-in program, and allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, two ideas with powerful industry opposition.
Polis is the latest newly elected Democratic governor to lay out an ambitious agenda to make healthcare more affordable for consumers, reduce costs and expand coverage. With a divided Congress likely to be gridlocked by partisan differences, observers expect most health policy action will take place at the state level for the next two years.
California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed to extend Affordable Care Act premium subsidies to people with incomes above the law’s current eligibility threshold, and allow state agencies to directly negotiate prices with prescription drug manufacturers.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz wants to allow people to buy into Medicaid. Second-term Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also has proposed a public plan option to reduce premiums.
Polis was elected in November on a groundswell of voter demand for state action to make healthcare more affordable, said Kyle Legleiter, senior policy director at the Colorado Health Foundation..
Last year, his organization conducted a survey with the Kaiser Family Foundation that found nine in 10 Coloradans said lowering healthcare costs was a key issue for the state to work on, with one in four saying it was the top issue.
Many rural and mountain counties in Colorado have only one insurer in the individual market, and those counties often are served by one hospital and a limited number of physician specialists. So individuals and small businesses in those communities have faced some of the highest premiums in the country.
“So it’s not surprising to see Gov. Polis address healthcare costs and affordability in the second executive order he has signed,” Legleiter said.
Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, a veteran healthcare legislator, patient advocate and breast cancer survivor, will lead the Office of Saving People Money on Healthcare. As part of her role, she’ll also head a permanent interdepartmental healthcare cabinet including all state agencies managing healthcare and behavioral health programs to align their efforts.
The Colorado Hospital Association praised Polis’ initiative. “The potential and opportunity for this office’s efforts are significant and could make a great difference for Coloradans,” the association said in a written statement.
Under the previous governor, Democrat John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care issued a broad range of recommendations in 2017 for improving affordability and access, with a heavy focus on increasing price and quality transparency.
But Polis may have more ability to make changes than Hickenlooper did, since the Democrats took full control of the legislature in November.
“Healthcare costs were top of mind for voters in many states in 2018 and into 2019, and many newly elected leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, heard that loud and clear,” Legleiter said.