by Colorado Governor Jared Polis
Featured in the January-February 2020 Colorado Medicine Colorado Medicine.
Doctors know that all roads lead to health. Our ability to work and make ends meet, to plan for our future, to enjoy time with family and friends and do the things that make life worth living – are all contingent on our health.
When people get sick, everything should be secondary to recovery. The last thing people should be worrying about is how to pay for their care.
But we know that’s not the case in the United States. Every day, millions of Americans struggle to afford the care they need when they have an accident or get sick.
One in five Coloradans report forgoing care because they can’t afford it. Nearly one in three Coloradans report failing to comply with prescriptions or cutting pills in half to delay refills because of costs.
And even if you’re well, the cost of health insurance is eating up a larger and larger slice of the family budget, which makes life harder for countless hardworking Coloradans who are trying to make ends meet.
Health care financing in the United States is like an ice cube. It gets passed around the system so everyone can get their hands wet – insurance companies, hospital administration, drug companies – and by the time it reaches the point where doctors are actually interacting with patients, there’s not always enough money left over for actual health care delivery.
As a result, we pay more than any other country for a health care system that leaves tens of millions without basic coverage while producing middle-of-the-pack results and one of the lowest life expectancies in the developed world.
The system isn’t just inefficient, unsustainable and immoral – it makes your job as medical professionals harder.
As study after study finds, stress exacerbates most health problems, and nothing is more stressful than worrying about how you can afford to feed your family, keep a roof over your head or send your child to school, while you’re trying to recover from an illness or an injury, or pay off the debt associated with the care you or a family member received.
Furthermore, when people can’t afford their medications or don’t have first-dollar coverage for early intervention, their health problems worsen, become more expensive and require more intensive treatments. As you well know, preventing an illness or disease is always less expensive and better for the patient than treating one.
And finally, you went to medical school and worked hard your whole lives to administer care and help people get better, not to spend your valuable hours navigating complicated payer requirements.
For all these reasons, I have made reducing health care costs one of my core priorities as governor.
In the short-term, we’re focusing on how to reduce costs for Coloradans today. Our biggest accomplishment this past legislative session was our bipartisan reinsurance program that is bringing down health insurance rates on the individual market by an average of 20.2 percent across the state, with even bigger savings in rural areas where some Coloradans are paying some of the highest premiums in the nation.
This program will have ripple effects beyond the individual market. When health rates are lower, more people can afford insurance, which means less uncompensated care.
But we know that we need to do more in the long term to address the systemic, underlying causes of high health care costs.
We passed a major hospital transparency bill to identify and address the root causes of outrageous hospital bills. We passed a plan to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, and we plan to pass legislation requiring more drug price transparency this session.
We’re working to reward primary care and prevention so that providers can prevent and address health problems before they become full-blown emergencies. In fact, Colorado’s Primary Care Collaborative just published its first report on how to make better primary care investments in the state.
We’re retooling our behavioral health system, and exploring innovations in health care financing like the consumer purchasing alliance model in Summit County that cuts out the middleman and lets employers negotiate directly with providers for better rates.
But the most important thing we are working on is a public option to lower insurance rates by reducing the actual cost of care and ensuring more competition in our individual insurance markets. Twenty-two counties currently have no choice of carrier. A public option will fix that and increase competition.
It’s simple economics – when insurance companies have to compete for customers, rates get lower, which saves money for families who already have insurance, and puts coverage in reach for families that are currently going without.
I’m grateful to have the Colorado Medical Society as a champion and partner in this work. By standing behind this new option, you are putting patients first, ensuring that they will be able to afford the care they need.
None of this work is easy. But consider the alternative. If we don’t act, the unsustainable growth of health costs will continue. Fewer families will be able to afford insurance or prescription drugs, which means more of your patients will go without needed care. There will be more uncompensated care, which will lead to even higher prices, and most importantly, a less healthy state. If we want to avoid this future, we must act swiftly to address the underlying cost of care.
An affordable, efficient health care system is central to our success as a state and your success as doctors. By pursuing these key reforms, we can reduce headaches for medical practitioners and instead allow you to focus on the very thing you entered this profession to achieve: better health outcomes for all.
I look forward to working with you to ensure that all Coloradans have access to quality, affordable health care.