PERRY: Colorado’s public option bill is the only way to rein in a health care system gone rogue


The strongest argument for commanding health care reform doesn’t come from the mountain of gloomy studies or distressed pundits warning how much worse this can all get. The most potent argument to overhaul the health care system comes from you.

No one is now immune to the endless tumult, confusion, gouging and bullying by hospitals, drug companies, pharmacies, doctors, labs and insurance companies — all of whom continue with impunity.

The Affordable Care Act was a catastrophic failure in that it has never made health care affordable for most Americans and the nation as a whole.

Americans spend almost twice as much per person on health care than the next richest western nation does, Switzerland. We spend $11,000 per person. Switzerland spends about $6,600 per person, according to 2019 global statistics.

And if your argument is that countries like Switzerland, Norway, Australia and Germany have lousy health care compared to the United States, you’re ridiculously mistaken.

If you live in rural Colorado, you can almost be guaranteed to drive for hours just for many basic health care needs. If you’re seriously ill and need exotic specialty care, like seeing an ophthalmologist for cataracts treatment or a podiatrist for heel spurs, you’ll not only have to drive to Colorado’s biggest cities, you’re going to have to wait before you can even get in the car.

You don’t have to read studies to know that the waiting time to see a physician, any physician in the metro area, has been steadily increasing. Non-urgent appointments can take weeks.

And when you finally get in? You don’t have to read anyone’s investigations to know you’re going to be gouged by your provider and insurance company for “uncovered” novel treatments like a simple chest x-ray or a thimble-full of liquid nitrogen to remove a skin tag, or even a throat culture.

It’s a national scandal that hospitals and providers call in “consultants” during routine procedures who aren’t covered in “network” by a patient’s insurance. We suffer under a system that charges patients for the kind of room they receive a routine injection in.

The system is confusing, deceptive, obscenely expensive and more often than not, outright disappointing as patients are given the bum’s rush so providers can keep in the good graces of insurance companies, which run the show.

Entire billion-dollar industries exist not in providing health care or any kind of medicine, but in managing and milking the vast bureaucracy of medicine.

The health care system in Colorado and the United States is a dismal fiasco. And despite that, business lobbies and the health care industries —  which feed on Americans — spend your “health care” dollars for exorbitant media campaigns and lobbying efforts to fight any meaningful changes.

Naive or complicit minions of the industrial health-care complex infuse the public with fear about a government takeover they say will produce “death panels” that will tell each of us when we’ve consumed our allotment of blood pressure pills, Viagra and chemotherapy.

Lobbyists insist that we must continue to sacrifice our wages and common sense to the complex to keep inventing drugs and procedures most insurance formularies don’t cover anyway.

Congress had the right intentions in 2010 when they passed the Affordable Care Act. They lacked the courage, however, to push back against hospitals, providers, pharmaceutical companies and, most importantly, insurance companies, to regulate prices and performance to ensure American health care is truly affordable by providing a public option for health insurance. Face it, $800 a month crappy insurance policies that force people to pay thousands each year in uncovered costs aren’t affordable to people nor employers.

In Colorado, the cost to the public has only gone up, often in extraordinary leaps, while what we get for our money continues to be diminished.

Only a recent “reinsurnance” program implemented by Colorado has resulted in slightly lower insurance premiums to a relative few. Those lucky few are paying less because reinsurance is actually just a subsidy program funded by your tax dollars.

The answer to all of this is complicated. It’s not hard to see what has to happen, however: Hospitals, providers, insurance and drug companies must make less money.

Reform means the loss of thousands of jobs for people in the health care industry who don’t provide any health care to anyone. It means smaller profits for Colorado hospitals, which have been raking in the highest profit margins in the nation.

The ultimate answer is elusive, but the answer right now is a “public option” for Colorado residents to get health insurance from.

After years of failed attempts, legislators state Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, have taken the lead to push through House Bill 21-1232.

For the first time, this bill does three critical things to make real change happen. It requires the state to run a “public option” health insurance program, not another private insurance company. It forces providers and hospitals to honor the insurance. And, most importantly, it regulates the prices of health care services and drugs.

The ACA failed because it dodged those most important qualities of a plan to make health care affordable.

HB 1232 is a long and complicated piece of legislation. It first pressures the industry to reduce costs to consumers for a couple of years. If prices don’t go down by as much as 20%, the public insurance option goes on line.

This new bill doesn’t allow the health care industry to make its own carrot-and-no-stick laws with complicit or ignorant legislators. Instead, the measure by Roberts and Donovan wields a big stick, and then an even bigger one.

You can imagine the response from officials in the health care industry and their paid lobbyists.

“Cuts have to come from somewhere,” Josh Ewing, associate vice president of legislative affairs at the Colorado Hospital Association, told the Colorado Independent.

Yes they do, and they should. But the public and patients shouldn’t suffer the cuts, hospitals should. Hospital profits are a perfect starting place, and bloated bureaucracies on top of duplicative profits across all sectors is a critical place to dig in. It will mean big job losses for people in the health care industry who don’t provide health care. That’s a really good thing.

All of the health care associations are chiming in to protect their profits.

“Colorado’s state government option would significantly expand the role of government in health care, putting politicians in control of what health benefits and services are covered,” according to a statement by Colorado’s Health Care Future, a lobbying group funded by Colorado health insurance companies and hospitals, which was quoted in a story by the Colorado Sun.

It sure would. State lawmakers already force insurance companies to cover illnesses and procedures they don’t want to, especially when it comes to providing health care equity for women. Allowing insurance companies to “self-regulate” is why women have to pay cash for birth control far too often.

It will be better for the bottom line of working people and the businesses that employ them to have a non-profit state agency provide health insurance. We know what we get when insurance companies and others ensure their profits come first. Hey, it’s a business.

This isn’t brain surgery folks, but if you need that, you’re going to need a public option like this one to make sure you can get the surgery when you need it. Only the power of a public option will ensure you can afford health care if you’re filthy rich, stinking poor, or like most everyone else in Colorado, just trying to get by.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]

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1 year ago

I think maybe the first step is to determine how the public is going to pay for their insurance. Just because it says public option it isn’t free. Once that is worked out then we have an idea of the funds available to put towards paying for the public option and the services it can provide.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 year ago

Regardless of the preferred solution, what we have cannot be called a “health-care system.” I had hoped that the ACA would be a good first step on the path to a solution, but the naysayers didn’t allow for continued improvement, and so here we are, still arguing over solutions instead of building on the ACA and helping Americans. Like everything else, we’re just playing politics with Americans’ lives. Shame on us.

1 year ago

The problem with the ACA was that it didn’t go far enough in what should be the ultimate solution: taking the profit motive out of healthcare. Oh, and the main problem was allowing it to be labeled ‘Obamacare’ which made the brainstem enemies of President Obama and all he tried to do oppose it.

Healthcare in our country is a great example of where capitalism does not belong.

John Tumulty
John Tumulty
1 year ago

Before attacking hospitals’ “profits”, you should understand what happens to those funds. For nonprofit hospitals, those funds are reinvested into patient care. The clinical trials to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, new MRI and CT machines that replaced outdated ones, telehealth technologies, uncompensated care for those without insurance, community benefit programs, services for homeless patients and so much much – those come directly from the “profits” that some seek to eliminate. The public option would force investments and programs like these to be cut.

And let’s not forget about doctors. Dave Perry says people in Colorado don’t have access to the doctors and services they need, and sometimes face long wait times. Cutting doctors’ reimbursements, and threatening their medical licenses if they don’t accept patients with this government price-controlled insurance plan, won’t increase access to doctors. It will drive doctors out of Colorado. Why would docs want to stay in Colorado when their pay is being cut by 20% or more? Access to excellent health care will get worse, not better. The public option bill will have huge unintended consequences – and will hurt businesses and the quality of health care in our state.

Bill Schmabby
Bill Schmabby
1 year ago
Reply to  John Tumulty

I am a specialist physician and am getting my house ready to sell to move out of Colorado if this bill passes. Cutting my income by 30% is not the worst of it. It forces me to be part of the byzantine insurance system which is a detriment to both patients and doctors… and threatens action against my medical license if I don’t take whatever the government decides. No thanks and goodbye Colorado…

Good luck getting any specialist in four years if this passes. Just like Cuba, everyone will have insurance but no one will have a physician.