Nothing reinforces the need for quality, affordable and accessible health care like our current public health crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how far we have to go to reach universal coverage that ensures equity and provides health care providers the resources they need. 

It is ridiculous that people are charged hundreds of dollars for a COVID-19 test or have to worry about going bankrupt after a stay in the hospital. 

John Hickenlooper. (Photo by Evan Semón Photography)

When I was governor, we expanded health care to half a million Coloradans and cut our uninsured rate by nearly two-thirds. But instead of building on our work and continuing to expand access to health care, today Washington Republicans are trying to take it away.

Sen. Cory Gardner has spent his career in Washington working to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

And now he and President Trump are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the law, and with it, protections for 2.4 million Coloradans with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, asthma and hyper-tension. Sen. Gardner won’t answer questions on that lawsuit, and he doesn’t have a sufficient plan to address our health care crisis — but we do.

We believe health care is a right, not a privilege. No matter where you live, who you are or how much you earn, you deserve quality, affordable health care. As a nation, we have repeatedly fallen short of this aspiration.

The toll of the coronavirus is not to be underestimated. It is straining our health care system and institutions to their breaking point. But it has also reminded us that we are all in this together. We should not miss this opportunity to rebuild the system stronger and more resilient than it was before. 

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We must start by addressing affordability. The ACA made significant strides in slowing the rise of health care costs, but it has not done enough. Health insurance prices increased by hundreds of dollars in 2018, and deductibles can be so high that even families with quality coverage face exorbitant out-of-pocket costs.

If elected to the U.S. Senate, I will work to expand subsidies on the exchanges so that more working families can access affordable coverage. And I will fight to pass a public option that increases marketplace competition and reduces premiums. 

Coloradans are getting blind-sided by the high cost of prescription drugs. When the price of life-saving medicine such as insulin has risen by 1,200% over a few decades, it is clear we must do more to make sure prescriptions are affordable for all Coloradans.

I will work to save you money by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies. We also need to curb provider costs by ending surprise medical billing and push for greater transparency in hospital pricing.

Affordability and accessibility are inextricably linked. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis extended the Connect for Health enrollment period so more people could get covered during the pandemic — but Congress and President Trump refused to act. 

Community health centers see low-income and underserved patients — they were already struggling before the pandemic, but now they’re on the front lines and need stable, reliable funding to thrive.

And telemedicine, which allows individuals to see providers from the comfort of their own homes, helps connect people in rural communities. The CARES Act relaxed telemedicine restrictions for Medicare and Medicaid during the pandemic, and I believe we should make these changes permanent.

Finally, we must focus on improving the quality of care. Health outcomes diverge dramatically based on race. This reality is rooted in structural biases, systemic racism, and decades of underinvestment in communities of color.

In the Senate, I will support legislation such as the  Health Equity and Accountability Act, a collaborative effort to reduce inequalities in health care by collecting and reporting data, addressing physician shortages and emphasizing cultural competence in care.

And any quality health care plan must protect reproductive rights and ensure inclusive care for our LGBTQ community, veterans and people with disabilities.

For too long, Congress has been in the pocket of special interests. You and I feel the impact of this cronyism in the form of expensive co-pays and sky-high deductibles. Enough is enough.

It is time we had new leadership in Washington that is willing to fix things we know are broken, strengthen the things that work and produce a health care system that lives up to its promise of quality care for all. As your senator, l will fight for universal coverage. Change is coming, and it is long overdue.

John Hickenlooper is a former Colorado governor and the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

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