EDITORIAL: Reinsurance treats state’s sick health care symptoms; a public option is the cure

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Obamacare has collided with reality. The prognosis is not good.

Now almost 10 years old, America’s best chance for making health care accessible and affordable for all Americans has all but evaporated.

We’re not alone in pointing out that the Affordable Care Act was doomed from the start for two reasons.

First, Congress could not muster the votes in 2010 to include a so-called public option. More important, Congress could not muster the votes to regulate insurance companies, drug makers and healthcare providers in an effort to keep all three industries from gouging Americans.

They all shamelessly did just that. They dug deep into American wallets and continue to do so.

While Obamacare improved access and ended the ability of insurance companies to prelude coverage for Americans with “pre-existing” conditions, it failed miserably on making health care affordable.

The failure rests primarily on the shoulders of Congressional Republicans, including current Sen. Cory Gardner and other Colorado GOP House representatives. Republicans and President Donald Trump have tried repeatedly to kill or maim Obamacare rather than fix it. Returning to the health-care, free-for-all of the early 2000s is not a solution. It’s what drove the nation to Obamacare.

The reality is bleak. Even with strong majority in the House, 60 votes in the Senate and a reform proponent in the White House, the nation was unable in 2010 to create a public option and a workable regulatory system for the health care industry.

Medicare for all next year? It will not happen in the next Congress, nor the Congress after.

Even if the Democrats increase their lead in the House, regain control of the Senate and the White House, Medicare for all is but a dream. While the idea has enormous merit, it will not happen.

What can happen is progress among the states, especially in Colorado. This year, the Colorado Legislature was able to force hospitals to finally become transparent about how they bill patients and insurance companies. Lawmakers were able to push toward prescription drug reform by opening Canadian markets. But the most impressive change came from Gov. Jared Polis’ signature request to create a re-insurance program for Colorado residents who buy health insurance from the state exchange.

Those who do will see their unchanged policies get cheaper, much cheaper. The program will reduce insurance premiums by about 20 percent in places like Aurora, according to state projections. In rural communities, the savings will be even greater, around 30 percent or more. Polis is right in saying, “This is a really big deal.”

The downside is that the improvement is essentially a shell game that, thankfully, makes consumers the winners for a change. But the approximately $200 million is takes to create these consumer savings comes from state and federal tax money, and money from local hospitals. Nothing here actually drives down the overall cost of health care, because that would mean that either hospitals, health care providers, drug companies or insurance companies, or all of them, must make less money.

So Polis and a majority of Democratic state lawmakers are pushing for a way to create a “public option” in Colorado. The idea is beginning review now and could be up for discussion next year during the 2020 general assembly. Such a change would essentially allow the willing public to buy into a Medicare-like program. Among all the possibilities, a public option, along with industry-wide transparency and regulation, could actually create a truly affordable and desirable option. And as Colorado residents clamor to get on board, the migration could cause real and substantive change for all insurance customers. It’s discouraging to see the 2020 presidential election devolve into a useless battle over Medicare For All, when such a feat is virtually impossible on a federal level.

But changes Polis and supporting legislators can make offer realistic and substantive improvements. More importantly, they can lead to a system of universal healthcare, which is the only way to ensure the state’s health care systems provide quality care that’s sustainable.