In State of the State Address, Colorado Gov. Polis announces health care priorities, Office of Saving People Money on Health Care

In his first-ever State of the State Address as Colorado Governor, Gov. Jared Polis named health care as a top priority and detailed several health care-related goals.

Polis credited former Governor John Hickenlooper and the Legislature for “admirable, bipartisan work years ago” to expand access to affordable health care before diving into his immediate health care-related goals, which can be broken down into a few categories: lowering health care costs, addressing the opioid crisis, and supporting family and medical leave.

“It’s time for us to build a health care system that makes sense, where market forces produce savings rather than extra cost,” Polis said. “Where no person has to choose between losing their life savings and the home or losing their life. It’s time for Coloradans to pay a fair price for prescription drugs that they need. It’s time for people experiencing mental illness or addiction to get treatment, rather than more costly jail time. And … we want to make Colorado as family-friendly as possible.”

Lowering health care costs

Most of what Polis had to say about health care focused on lowering costs, in order to bring Colorado closer to his ultimate objective: “to bring universal, high-quality, affordable health care to every family in Colorado.”

The governor said (to laughter from the room full of legislators) that he would immediately establish a plainly named Office of Saving People Money on Health Care.

“We don’t want to give this office a bureaucratic or fancy name to make it sound important. We want to give it a simple name because it is important,” Polis said.

The office “will form the beating heart of our efforts to reduce patient costs for hospital stays and expenses, improve price transparency, lower the cost of prescription drugs, make health care more affordable, and make market forces work for us rather than against us,” Polis said, and will be led by Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera.

Lt. Gov. Primavera is a four-time cancer survivor, championed many health care-related efforts during her four terms as a State Representative, and was recently CEO of Susan G. Komen Colorado.

To address the especially high health care costs facing Coloradans living in rural and mountain counties, Polis said he plans to establish a reinsurance program — insurance for insurers — to reduce costs.

In an effort to safe Coloradans money on prescription drugs, the Governor said he plans to work with the Legislature to set up “a way for Colorado to safely import prescription drugs from Canada,” where he said drugs often cost much less than in the U.S.

“The burden that prescription drug costs place on families is too crushing for us not to act boldly, and I encourage all of us to do so, together” Polis said.

Supporting family and medical leave

The Governor’s budget package, coming January 15, will include a formal request for paid parental leave for all state employees. Polis also urged the Legislature to “establish a paid family and medical leave program in Colorado.”

Addressing the opioid crisis

Polis’s goals for both addressing the opioid crisis were broad. The Governor said he’ll work with legislators from both sides of the aisle “on solutions that focus on addiction prevention and access to effective treatment.”

“We must get to work to get a grip on the opioid epidemic, which has taken thousands of lives in our state,” Polis said. “In 2017 alone, more than 550 Coloradans died because they overdosed on either a prescription or illicit opioid.”

Polis also mentioned improving behavioral health resources in schools, during the portion of his speech dedicated to efforts to improve high school graduation rates.

“I look forward to working with you to help our most vulnerable students overcome the barriers they face and graduate from high school as healthy and productive adults.”

The full speech is available on the Governor’s verified Facebook page.