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Opinion: The Colorado legislature’s big health care bill will worsen health disparities for African Americans

It is disappointing that lawmakers rushed to advance this legislation without understanding the larger implications. They would be wise to go back to the drawing board.

As a physician and native Coloradan, I am grateful to wake up every day and provide quality medical care in the state that is so close to my heart. I spent the first 27 years of my career as a pediatric cardiologist in a private practice.

To me, I am more than just a doctor – I am a partner and a confidant. I consider it a privilege that so many families have trusted me with caring for their children.

Dr. Reginald Washington

I am also a doctor of color. I am acutely aware of the fact that Black Americans are more likely to go without proper medical care than white Americans. Whether it’s routine preventive care or specialized treatment, affordability and accessibility remain barriers for far too many Coloradans in our communities of color.

Legislative solutions that address the racial disparities that continue to plague our health care system are long overdue. 

Colorado lawmakers recently advanced a proposal to solve these issues by passing House Bill 1232, the Colorado Option plan. 

Despite proponents’ best intentions, this bill ultimately does more harm to our communities of color rather than help them.  

If we truly want to reform our health care system, we must consider all the social determinants of health. Education, employment, transportation, access to affordable medications, food security and, most importantly, access to clinics and health care providers all play critical roles in achieving positive health outcomes. 

It’s pretty simple: To see a doctor, patients need a way to get to the clinic or office. Pharmacies must be nearby for needed prescription medication. And there must be health care providers, including doctors, in your community to deliver timely care in a facility that is close by.

Social determinants of health are root causes of some chronic conditions, and far more problematic for our communities of color. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Unfortunately, HB 1232 does not address any of these factors, and instead implements unprecedented mandates that will hinder more Black patients from the access and affordability needed to receive quality medical care.

An actuarial analysis of HB 1232 reveals the measure shifts the cost burden on health care providers and hospitals, particularly rural hospitals – which will impact access and quality of care – resulting in gaps and delays in health care services as a result of physicians potentially leaving to practice in other states and worsen the existing physician shortage. 

If physicians are required to participate in the plan, our current doctors will have no incentive to stay in the state, and new doctors in search of a place to practice will consider opportunities elsewhere. 

Additionally, the analysis highlights that HB 1232 will ultimately drive insurers to exit the market – which would reduce competition and consumer choice – and consumers could have a decrease in subsidies available to them or experience a higher rate for their current plan.

HB 1232 ignores all of the underlying factors that affect quality and affordability, and turns our health care system into one where those most at risk will continue to be left behind. 

Solving racial inequities within our health care system is important, and I am eager to be part of the solution. However, closing the racial disparity gap is so much more than handing underserved patients a health insurance card. In reality, the path toward expanding access to care is far more complex.

I chose this profession because I wanted to help those in need. Our health care system needs to expand its tent – one in which more vulnerable Coloradans can see a doctor in a timely fashion without worrying about financial hardships. HB 1232 is simply not the way to achieve that. 

It is disappointing that lawmakers rushed to advance this legislation without understanding the larger implications. They would be wise to go back to the drawing board and come back with a proposal that acknowledges the gaps in health care for our communities of color and helps them get the care they need.


Dr. Reginald Washington is the chief medical officer of Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center and the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver.


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