EDITORIAL: Polis’ push for health care reform recognizes Colorado’s most pressing problem

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Despite inroads in creating a stronger, more diverse Colorado economy and equitable statewide community, much of the state still struggles financially, and a rogue health care system threatens everyone here.

The Legislature and Gov. Jared Polis set Colorado on a new direction last year. That path, and goals for 2020, check all the right boxes for a state desperate for major reforms. This legislative session will likely reveal whether Democrats controlling just about every part of state government can enact the right answers.

So far, so good.

Polis was right to push past naysayers last year in making “free” kindergarten his administration’s legislative priority. The move shows a depth of understanding about how education, above everything, is society’s most potent income and societal equalizer. The push to ensure every child is able to attend preschool and kindergarten is a proven way to increase the chances for poorer children to succeed in school as well as their wealthier peers.

With inroads to universal early-childhood education underway, Polis’ intent this year is to increase state savings accounts. Addressing what the governor says are inadequate state “rainy day” funds can help ensure Colorado can better weather the next, inevitable economic recession in the state. Too many people don’t know or have forgotten that Colorado survived the Great Recession primarily on the backs of college students, public schools and teachers. It was an event that still hampers Colorado’s long-struggling education system.

We appreciate Polis’ pragmatism regarding state debt, but we encourage him and lawmakers to now turn full attention to the state’s most pressing problem: the cost of healthcare.

It doesn’t mean that transportation, environmental, economic and wage-disparity issues can wait for another time. Those problems almost must also be handled by the 2020 legislature. Nothing, however, threatens personal and business economic stability more than Colorado’s virtually unchecked healthcare system.

During his state-of-the-state of address last week, Polis said Colorado hospitals are reaping record profits. Good times for hospitals, providers, and pharmaceutical companies continue while consumers are mercilessly gouged by health insurance companies that charge endlessly more and provide customers less and less.

Every segment of the healthcare industry blames others and the government for the spiraling prices. Growth in bureaucracy has led to a bloated industry that focuses on profits and jobs, not health care delivery. 

Every business and government agency in the state, but especially small businesses, are sinking under the weight of a health care system that is irrevocably broken. Colorado has allowed more economically struggling people than ever to get virtually free or greatly reduced health insurance. The promise was moving the burden of health care for the poor from providers to taxpayers would net consumers great savings. With no industry regulation, the health care industry has greedily profited from schemes to expand on government-funded health insurance dollars while gouging the private markets.

Soon, only the poor and the rich will have access to health care or face the fate of a growing number of Colorado’s middle class, choosing prescription medications or critical procedures over everyday living expenses.

While the Affordable Care Act was a great experiment, it has failed the goal of being affordable. With Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling the Senate, Americans have no hope for meaningful change to the Obamacare system.

Polis and Colorado Democrats rightfully point out that change must occur in this state legislature, and it must happen this year.

The Polis administration and lawmakers have already begun the process of creating a so-called “public option” health insurance system for Colorado. Had congress created such a mechanism while enacting the ACA, the nation might not have fallen so far behind in achieving the ultimate goal of affordable health care.

Polis pointed out last week that, already, hospitals are spending some of their massive profits, collected from consumers, on ad campaigns to fight against a public option and other needed reforms.

Few things ring in a better endorsement for the need of such reforms.

We look forward to details of the plan and Colorado being able to offer it to consumers this year.