Commentary from Gov. Polis’s bill signing ceremony

On Friday afternoon, Gov. Jared Polis signed a series of health care bills that aim to lower costs. Polis signed the bills in Summit County, an area of Colorado known for having some of the highest health care costs in the entire nation.

 

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He signed the bills at the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), a group that works to strengthen families in the community, and to promote healthier living. The group was instrumental in the process of both bills becoming law.

House Bill 1168, the reinsurance bill, was the first bill signed. The bill establishes an alternative funding mechanism to help Coloradans pay for the high cost of insurance in the individual market. It grants permission to the commissioner of insurance to apply for a state innovation waiver, federal funding, or both. The waiver would help establish and operate a reinsurance program.

Senate Bill 004 was the second bill signed. The bill modifies health care coverage cooperative laws to include additional consumer protections, and to give consumers bargaining power with providers. The bill is also an attempt to directly lower health care costs.

Gov. Polis began the bill-signing ceremony by detailing the importance of the reinsurance bill:

“We are about to sign one of the most important bills of the session because it saves people money on health care…what that means as well, is that it is the difference between having insurance, and not having insurance for families who cannot afford it… In Western Colorado, and in Summit County, we have some of the highest rates [of healthcare costs] in the individual market in the entire country, which leads to an even higher rate of uninsured. In the short term, in the very next pricing periods, this bill will make an enormous difference in the price of insurance both here in Western Colorado and across the state. We fully expect that this will bring down rates in Western Colorado between twenty and thirty percent in the next pricing period,” Gov. Polis said during the bill signing.

Gov. Polis then introduced HB 1168 bill sponsors, and the commissioner of insurance for comment. He stressed the fact that this bill was a product of bipartisan collaboration and hard work between the legislators, the commissioner, and the governor himself. “Like anything big, it was complicated,” he said.

Rep. Julie McClusky, a prime sponsor of the bill and a key proponent of the passage of the bill, spoke first:

“…It meant a lot that we could put party politics aside, and really focus and solve a problem that affects everybody here on the Western Slope. There were two issues that we heard about as we went around campaigning before the election last fall. It was always health care, health care, health care…the health care concerns on the Western Slope were absolutely in my heart everyday down at the capitol and I am so proud to have worked with all of you tireless advocates who said we need to do something, and you know, we did it,” Rep. McCluskie said.

When introducing the Senate co-sponsors of the bill, Sen. Bob Rankin and Sen. Kerry Donovan, Gov. Polis acknowledged that this bill is not just for Western Colorado. While the impact of the bill will be most noticeable due to the high costs of coverage in this part of the state, all Coloradans will be impacted.

“ We did a scope of health care bills this year…we did mental health, we did suicide prevention, we did prescription drugs, and we did all these bills that have short-term and long-term impacts and what is so exciting about reinsurance is that the bills that people get in January should be lower,” Sen. Donovan commented.

The Senator continued to explain the complicated process that was involved in the passage of the bill. She commented on the stakeholder involvement, the many amendments, and the bipartisan collaboration.  

During the ceremony, Commissioner of Insurance Michael Conway announced that he would be filing the waiver with the state on Monday. Once filed the process should be underway quickly, and Coloradans can expect to see reduced rates by January.

The governor concluded:

“This bill is really about the most substantial thing we are doing for short-term relief in rates while we give some of the systemic reforms a chance to kick in. But, this one immediately will save people money and I am very confident that other bills will have a medium and long-term effect,” Gov. Polis stated before signing the bill.

Following the signing of HB 1168, Gov. Polis invited the bill sponsors for SB 004 to the table, and introduced the next bill. The bills were signed in conjunction as they both work together to reduce health care costs.

“This bill is really exciting. It’s about how we can make the market better in health care by making sure that people have negotiating leverage and that there is more of an equal playing field for that,” the governor said in explaining SB 004 before its official signing.

Gov. Polis introduced the bill sponsors, Senator Kerry Donovan, Representative Dylan Roberts, and Representative Julie McCluskie and asked them for comments. Here is what they had to say:

“I think this is one of the least talked about health care bills this session, but could be one of the most impactful…we can see the work that is being done in Summit county spreading out across the entire state…having health insurance and health care is so crucial to somebody’s life and if they have it in a community like Eagle county, Summit county, Routt county then they will stay here and build their community,” Rep. Dylan Roberts said.

The bill became the first health cooperative in the state, and is expected to make long-term impacts to the healthcare market across the state.