In the epic David and Goliath battle to wrestle Colorado health care costs that are bleeding consumers and the economy to death, Goliath won yesterday — again.
Legislative sponsors of a courageous state House bill that would have created a public-run health insurance program caved in to intense and relentless pressure from powerful hospital and insurance forces opposing the plan.
Colorado’s proposed “public option” won’t be public, if amendments announced Monday pass a House committee hearing House Bill 1232. And the only real options left from the filleted bill are extended to hospitals and providers, who can avoid having to honor the insurance.
The parts of the proposal that would have initiated real change in the industry — by forcing hospitals and providers to accept the insurance and the payments the state deems adequate — were either deleted or mixed into the same concoction of loopholes and word salad that turned Obamacare into the throbbing national sore it has become.
The Colorado Sun reported last week that hospital, insurance and provider cabals flooded the airwaves with more than a million dollars in advertising to attack HB 1232 as a prescription for being unable to choose doctors and for killing access to health care. The commercials were wild exaggerations or outright disinformation, not unlike the “death panels” fear stoked by the insurance industry when Obamacare was created a decade ago.
It worked. Goliath health care, using money that originally came from you, bullied state lawmakers into scrapping the parts of the bill that matter in exchange for them to quit spending more of your money to continue the marketing fight against it.
The industries aren’t supporting the “better” option bill, they just won’t buy any more ads to fight it, according to the compromise plan.
The bill’s most prominent backers — state representatives Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, Jodeh Iman, D-Aurora and state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Eagle County — tried to put a good face on the loss during a press conference Monday.
Roberts said the bill had always been intended as a starting place, open for negotiation. What he didn’t say is that he and others negotiated away the parts of the bill that could have made a difference.
The problems now are the same problems that have confounded Obamacare since it was created. Americans are fighting a for-big-profit team of industries whose chief marketing mission is to convince us that we want medical care instead of that we need medical care.
What they all want to distract Americans from the problem that we spend more on health care than any other large modern democracy, more than $11,000 a person, per year. Health care costs have risen from 5% of gross domestic product to about 18% in 2018.
Not only has health insurance become an unsustainable burden on small businesses and the middle class, it gets worse nearly every year. While some elected officials brag about leveling insurance premiums, the back side inflicts uncovered costs for common prescription medicines, procedures and materials. These are the “out of pocket” costs that go up on top of bloated monthly premiums.
The intention of Obamacare was to make it accessible and affordable, encouraging Americans to seek prevention and treatment early to reduce overall costs by providing better, cheaper outcomes. With so much money being poured into monthly insurance and uncovered costs, Americans once again are waiting until they’re more ill before seeking treatment.
At the same time, the same players blame each other for spiraling costs. Insurance companies blame hospitals and providers, which blame insurance companies and each other. Pharmaceutical companies just shrug it off and continue to raise prices, which insurance companies blame for fewer options and higher premium costs.
Congress won’t help, so our last best hope is with the Colorado Legislature, and that’s not happening again this year.
Just last week, HB 1232 would have required insurance companies to reduce health insurance premiums by 20% in two years or face creation of the state-run insurance company that would set rates and force hospitals and providers to take it.
If the bill were passed as proposed, insurance companies must be reduced by 18% over three years, and there’s no clear way in the bill to keep insurers from recouping that money through new copays or other loopholes.
Hospitals and providers can but will no longer have to accept this new insurance and limited payments for procedures if they say they’re doing the best they can at making health care available to people who maybe have a hard time getting it.
It’s hard to tell what the new bill language actually does, but it’s clear what it doesn’t do: It doesn’t require hospitals and providers to take fewer dollars for services rendered, and without that, you won’t pay less money.
“The affordability improvements intended by this bill are dependent on the sacrifice and management of Colorado’s hospitals,” Colorado Hospital Association president Chris Tholen said in a statement, according to the Colorado Sun.
That was the point. Either Colorado hospitals, insurance companies and providers must sacrifice sometimes huge profits and their bloated bureaucracies, or Colorado residents must sacrifice their health, their businesses and even their lives.
This may not be the end of the road for a public option and control over health care costs, but it’s certainly not a welcome detour for consumers.
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