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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Lowering health care costs is essential, but must be done in the right way

In the U.S. and Colorado, health care costs are too high. Many individuals struggle to pay their insurance premiums and health care bills, and rising deductibles mean patients are responsible for increasing percentages of their total health care costs.

Nationwide, health care accounts for about 18% of the total gross domestic product. This is unsustainable, and UCHealth is committed to continuing our work to reduce costs.

Unfortunately, the administration’s state-run insurance plan, named the Colorado Affordable Health Care Option, will cause great harm to our state’s health care system and patient care, without reducing costs in a meaningful way for all residents of our state.

Elizabeth Concordia

Rate-setting will slash reimbursements to many hospitals by 40% or more, forcing hospitals to reduce the very research and innovation that leads to lower costs and the medical cures of tomorrow. Cutting provider payments will reduce patient access, community benefits, critical health care services and mean layoffs of the very doctors and nurses our patients need.

The administration’s policy appears designed by individuals with an insurance background – focusing on limiting care, not in actually providing health care to patients. Further, it will give unprecedented authority to appointed bureaucrats with virtually no oversight from elected officials or the public.

UCHealth is the state’s largest provider of Medicaid services and provides more than $245 million each year to support CU’s School of Medicine, helping drive advanced treatments, education and research that saves lives.

This research is the reason that five-year survival rates for cancer patients are significantly higher here than national averages and why hospitals across the state send some of their very sickest patients to UCHealth.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Yet, the administration proposes to reimburse University of Colorado Hospital at one of the state’s lowest hospital rates, with nonprofit UCHealth receiving the lowest reimbursement rate of any system. This will directly threaten the hospital, the School of Medicine, and the development of advanced treatments.

Everyone in our state will be impacted by lower quality and reduced access to advanced care. Those who have health insurance through their employer will see premiums increase. Businesses across the state will see their health care costs increase. It is not possible to cut reimbursements so significantly without inflicting harm on health care.

UCHealth is dedicated to reducing costs and has been for many years. We are expanding access to lower-cost care, for example, by performing surgeries, lab testing and radiology imaging in freestanding locations instead of hospitals.

Our primary care, urgent care and Virtual Visit options help patients avoid expensive emergency rooms. Our new community locations all provide lower costs.

READ: $10,000-a-day fines and other things to know about Colorado’s new public health insurance option bill

We participate in value-based care, partnering with insurance companies to improve quality and reduce costs. UCHealth has launched an Employer Value Solutions program which allows businesses to partner with us, develop high quality networks, access lower prices, and help avoid costly health care. Some employers are already saving more than 30% on their overall health care costs.

These programs are helping our state to be ranked as the nation’s 9th best for health care performance and the 9th lowest in health insurance premiums, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

To successfully reduce health care costs for all Coloradans, we must expand on these successes while finding ways to address the 66% of health care spending that is not connected to hospitals or meaningfully addressed by the administration’s plan, including drug costs, insurance company profits, home health care, outpatient clinics, professional fees and ambulances.

Colorado is not the first state to consider a public option. Oregon decided that it would be poor policy, threatening value-based care, innovation and quality improvements. Oregon and other states have moved toward a better policy focused on the total cost of care.

Colorado and our lawmakers are at a tipping point. They could choose a dangerous policy that threatens access and quality health care for all in exchange for cost savings for a few. Or, they could choose a smarter path that encourages innovation, improves quality, and leads to real cost savings for all Coloradans.

Elizabeth B. Concordia is the president and CEO of UCHealth.