Washington, Colorado line up for public health option

Two governors leading the fight to provide a public health insurance option said Friday their efforts are worth it to help people who cannot afford the high cost of getting sick.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington has already achieved a record-low uninsured rate with least 800,000 residents getting access to health insurances with another 35,000 getting life-saving cancer care, through expansion of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid

The state’s public option plan, known as Cascade Care, won’t be available until Jan. 2021 but will make health care even more accessible to Washingtonians. Getting good health care has already helped families get important preventive care and access to opioid treatments and behavioral health services.


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“It’s been a life saving change to so many people,” Inslee told an audience at a forum conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Inslee said it was important to be the first state to start a public health care option because it became apparent that President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in the United States Senate wants to see any federal government-sponsored health care, including the Affordable Care Act, abolished.

“We had to be the pioneer on this thing, it was a risk we had to take because the current Republican majority want to abolish the whole thing,” Inslee said. “So, it was important for us to be on the balls of our feet and ready to go.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said powerful interests have lined up against implementing the final phase of his public health option plan. The initiative would still be administered by insurance companies but allows the state to limit what hospitals can charge people covered by the public option.

Polis has criticized Colorado hospitals for their profit margins, saying hospitals along the state’s Front Range made more than $2 billion in 2018.

The hospitals, he said, are fighting back by launching lobbying an intense advertising campaign against the public-option proposal.

“Special interests are literally spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight against this plan,” Polis said. “We have to literally plow through all that lobbying to get to what will help Colorado.”

Polis said his plan would save consumers as much as 11 to 19 percent on their medical bills. Other important segments of the proposal include limiting hospital charges and passing along rebates from drug companies to consumers, Polis said.

The plan would drive down prices and increase competition which is especially important in 22 counties in Colorado where residents have only one individual option, Polis said.

Polis said another important part of his plan is Colorado’s newly enacted reinsurance program, passed last year by Colorado lawmakers. Reinsurance has already led to an overall reduction in premiums by 20.2 percent across the state, state officials say.

In Summit County, one of Colorado’s priciest counties, the Peak Health Alliance helped bring down the county’s premiums by 47 percent, Polis said. The PHA is an alliance that uses the Community Purchasing Model to bring together the various health insurance markets to unify to bring down health care costs.

Both Inslee and Polis agreed health care is likely to be a winning issue for whomever is selected as the Democratic candidate for president.

“The person on the right side of the public option will be on the right side of angels,” Inslee said. “While the other side is only interested in tax cuts for the top 1 percent and really doesn’t care about the rest of the population.”