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Opinion: A Colorado public option for health care is a backwards step

We would all be much better off by working together to build on and improve our current system than trying to implement one that is controlled by politicians in Denver.

Health care is both critically important and far too expensive. It is a problem that Colorado businesses and individual Coloradans struggle with, and one that we’re committed to helping solve. 

However, House Bill 1232, a proposal before the state legislature to create a new government-run health plan, is the wrong approach. Full of big and risky ideas, but short on critically important details, the measure puts our health care and our economy at risk.

While we still have a long way to go, Colorado’s approach of addressing the true cost drivers of health care through private market innovation and public-private partnerships is the better approach – and it is already working.

Lauren Masias

Thanks to growth in private-sector initiatives, including investments in telehealth and other technologies, as well as value-based payment arrangements between health care providers and insurers, the industry is operating more efficiently and reducing the cost of care, providing meaningful and sustainable benefits to consumers. 

In addition, the state’s reinsurance program, a public-private partnership just recently enacted, is delivering significant savings for Coloradans buying individual health insurance, particularly in rural and underserved communities. Coloradans purchasing health insurance on the individual market saved nearly 21% on premiums and the Western Slope and southwest Colorado premiums were reduced nearly 38%.

In contrast, the state of Washington’s government health insurance program is increasing costs for consumers there. This year the public option plans offered through Washington’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange will be almost 29% more than traditional plans. On average, the national ACA benchmark premiums have fallen by 6% since 2018. 

Additional research has found Colorado’s premiums have outpaced that national average by falling over 25% while Washington state has seen an increase of more than 15%. Colorado should not seek to emulate these mistakes.

Our primary concern is that experimenting with a state government option simply shifts costs from one group of Coloradans to another, specifically those getting insurance through the state plan to those getting insurance through their employer sponsored, private coverage. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

The problem is that most Coloradans – 52.7%, according to the Colorado Health Institute – get their health care through their employer. So state lawmakers would be burdening the majority of their constituents in hopes of benefiting a small minority of them. 

And to what end? According to a recent report, the state government option would hardly make a dent in our uninsured population, reducing it by a measly 0.3%. 

We are just now starting to see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel – a full year after its devastating onset. Businesses are under unprecedented pressure to keep their companies viable, protect their employees and safely serve their customers. The economic recovery will take years to be fully realized.  

These challenging realities of COVID recovery are being compounded in Colorado by implementation of a long list of state policies adopted in recent years that will increase the cost of doing business here. These include, but are not limited to, implementation of paid family leave and changes to unemployment insurance. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

According to a recent study from the Common Sense Institute, the cumulative cost of new taxes and fees in Colorado will be approximately $1.8 billion per year within the next three to five years.

While the public option does not impose specific new mandates for health care, it is an unprecedented state venture that could very well expose businesses and our employees to increased health insurance premiums through cost-shifting and/or bail-out costs, if the Colorado Option is ultimately not successful.

There are better ways to improve our health care system, and they can be found by fostering a truly transparent, collaborative process that engages all parties early and often. We would all be much better off by working together to build on and improve our current system than trying to implement one that is controlled by politicians in Denver.


Lauren Masias is the director of the Colorado Competitive Council (C3), an affiliate of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce that works to develop policies that benefit Colorado businesses and ensure that the state continues to be competitive.


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