Colorado’s doctors, nurses and health care providers have put themselves in harm’s way to save lives and to curb the unprecedented outbreak of COVID-19.

These heroes have helped drop the number of new cases from its peak and are working around-the-clock to quell the spread of the virus. But their efforts would be jeopardized if members of Congress help the nation’s largest insurance companies sneak a government rate-setting plan in the next coronavirus relief bill.

This would help raise the profits of insurers, but would hurt first responders and patients alike. 

Stella Worley

Throughout our history, the country’s largest companies came together to help with relief efforts during national emergencies. During the Second World War, General Motors and Ford used their plants to build the resources that soldiers on the frontlines needed.

In fact, companies in Colorado, like the Colorado Fuel & Iron steelworks in Pueblo, supplied steel and other materials to the military during that period as well. Flash forward to today and the response to the coronavirus pandemic has been no different.

Companies, including some in Colorado, have converted their plants to manufacture masks and other essential supplies to fill shortages. But one group still hasn’t stepped up: the insurance industry.

After promising to waive co-pays for COVID-19 tests, they are still sending surprise medical bills to patients, and are pushing for government rate-setting legislation that would harm health care providers who are on the frontlines and the patients that they are treating.

READ: “It saved us”: A recent infusion of federal funds is helping Colorado’s rural hospitals stay afloat

Allowing the government to unilaterally decide medical rates would deprive first responders of the resources that they need to best treat patients, disrupting their ability to flatten the curve of new COVID-19 cases in our state and nationwide.

For example, next door in Nebraska, patients have seen the consequences of government rate setting. Over a dozen elderly health care facilities have closed recently after the government set unsustainable Medicaid rates. Vulnerable communities in the state now have fewer options for care and living support. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

More government-set rates in the next coronavirus relief package would worsen the trend of rural hospital closures. America has already had 170 rural hospital closures in the past 15 years.

And in the middle of a pandemic, with our health care system under a lot of stress, Colorado cannot afford to lose another hospital. The unsung heroes of this crisis — and not Big Insurance — need support from Washington to fight the pandemic. 

Right now, doctors have had to postpone scheduled and non-essential treatments to have more time to help patients who have been impacted by the pandemic. Health care providers are spending more without having as many reimbursements coming in to cover operating costs and climbing expenses for treatments.

They are now facing a financial crisis that could have devastating long-term consequences on our health care system, potentially eliminating medical offices and easy access to care for patients. Not to mention, having fewer hospitals would make it even harder to respond to a possible future pandemic. 

While some Congress members have allied with Big Insurance, many of our representatives have championed doctors. I was encouraged recently when I saw Sen. Cory Gardner speak about the physician shortage in rural Colorado. His support for our health care providers could help save critical medical facilities — and lives — in those areas.

Colorado’s medical professionals have made extraordinary sacrifices, putting their own lives on the line for their communities, and I hope that Congress provides those heroes with the support they need in the next coronavirus relief package.

Stella Worley is the CEO/Director of Finance at the Keefe Memorial Hospital in Cheyenne Wells.

Special to The Colorado Sun