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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Colorado should vote on a publicly funded, privately delivered health care system

The General Assembly asked for this recommendation, now it should put it in front of the voters

We can cover all of our health care needs, spend less, and have better care. 

Getting there requires the gumption to make a simple, but fundamental change to how we pay for health care. Little steps won’t get us there.

Bill Semple

Shining a light on the way, on September 1, the Colorado Health Care Cost Savings Act Task Force released its analysis that compared three basic ways of paying for health care: the current way, a multi-payer universal system, and a single, publicly funded, privately delivered system. They hired the Colorado School of Public Health to do the analysis.

The summary reports that Colorado can spend billions less, cover everyone, increase employment, and have better health care, with a state-based, single-payer system. 

How can this be? What do we need to understand?

The people at the top of the insurance, drug, and big hospital corporations don’t want us to understand how corrupting the profit motive is to how we pay for our health care. 

In June, 2018 the insurance, drug and hospital corporations joined up to create the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future — 60 corporations in all. This was back when Sen. Bernie Sanders was gaining traction to win the Democratic presidential nomination, in part with his message of Medicare for All. The Partnership members were scared. What if people got the way to pay for health care that the majority want?

The Partnership’s mission statement, in part, sounds benevolent: “to build on and improve what’s working, where private coverage, Medicare, and Medicaid work together to expand access to coverage and care, and fix what’s not.”

For whom is how we pay for health care working? Insurance, drug and hospital chains are seeing record profits. This, while we spend almost twice the average of other countries with universal systems, leave 1 out of 4 un- or under-insured, and have poorer health. 

When Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination, the Partnership switched its focus from opposing Improved Medicare for All to opposing a public option. In part, this was to keep us from even discussing and understanding, much less demanding, Improved Medicare for All. They’ve spent their corporate millions nationally to lobby and advertise to scare the rest of us into holding on to what is working for them.

Here in our state, Colorado’s Health Care Future spent several millions to oppose the proposed public option in our 2021 legislative session, succeeding in getting the General Assembly to back down to a private insurance-based model.

The profit motive corrupts insurers by giving them the incentive to compete to collect premiums, and not to pay for health care. High deductibles, claims denials, demands for prior authorizations, surprise billings, narrow provider networks—these are all ways they work to increase their profits while collecting premiums and not paying for care. Then, when insurance companies do have to pay for care, they don’t mind exorbitant charges, because they work in cahoots with the drug and hospital corporations like a price-fixing cartel, feeding parasitically off our unavoidable need for health care. It’s a partnership that works for them.

The profit motive in how we pay for health care drives our spending for health cvare to almost twice the average per person as is spent in other countries with universal systems. It drives 7 million to 9 million Americans into poverty yearly and leaves us comparatively unhealthy.

Can we do better? Yes.

Colorado’s Task Force analysis shows that it is the single, publicly funded, privately delivered model that works best for all, while saving money and increasing jobs. 

Medicare has worked for decades and is the most trusted way to pay for health care. A state-based system, modeled on an improved  Medicare, will vastly simplify the administration of payments, lower providers’ overhead and free providers to focus more on our health. Based on income, it’s affordable to all. Because there would be only one network, it is we, not bureaucrats, who get to choose who cares for us. Because it is a prepaid system, when care is needed, what care is needed is the focus, not how to pay for it.

Then, the gumption part.

The wealthy and powerful interests of big medicine have a system that works very well for them. For them it’s not broken. They do all they can to scare us into holding on to the failed system we have, for their sakes, not ours. They play on the natural human tendency to want to overvalue what we have, and to fear and undervalue what might be: You don’t want to lose your employer-sponsored health care, do you?

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The people must lead, because our elected leaders are beholden to big medicine’s money. A broad-based, grassroots effort is rising.

We can follow the evidence, to demand that the Colorado General Assembly put a ballot measure before the people of our state to create a single, publicly funded, privately delivered way to pay for our health care; a way that works for us all: health care of, by, and for the people.


Bill Semple, of Boulder, is chairman of the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care.



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