Opinion | Guest column: Choice for governor strongly impacts Grand County
Special to Sky-Hi News
Health care tops the issues in Colorado’s race for governor. A website review of the gubernatorial candidates’ health care section provides a clear contrast in how each candidate might affect Grand County’s residents.
Overall, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” has worked well for Grand County in supporting its residents, medical providers and hospitals. Colorado expanded Medicaid, essentially allowing adults to qualify. Due to the ACA, uninsured county residents dropped from 27 percent to 9 percent; the average monthly premium reduced as low as $10 to $20. Unfortunately, last year the removal of the law requiring a penalty for being uninsured and the chaos caused by attempts at repeal steeply increased insurance premiums and the uninsured rate in the county to 16.9 percent.
Since Connect for Health Colorado, the portal for the ACA, was started, personal bankruptcies tied to health care debt statewide have plummeted more than 60 percent. Rural health care costs are higher for a variety of reasons, and a 2016 Perception Survey by the Grand County Rural Health Network found that 41 percent of lower income residents of Grand County struggle to afford health care premiums, as well as health care itself.
Grand County residents want affordable insurance. Over 50 percent of Coloradans support single-payer health care. Over 50 percent approve of the ACA and large majorities of Americans — 75 percent — say that it is “very important” to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The ACA isn’t perfect; however, it is still viable and stable. Rates will only increase 3 to 4 percent in 2019. Still gaps exist. A working family of four may make too much to be covered by Medicaid, but find ACA plans unaffordable.
Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate for Colorado governor, proposes to improve Connect for Health Colorado. The claims that he is going to bankrupt the state by imposing universal health care are not true. He believes that health care is a human right and has endorsed “Medicare for All” at the federal level, but that’s not a policy he can institute as governor. Instead, he proposes a customer owner co-op on the exchange, has specific plans to end prescription drug price-gouging, and wants to develop a common-payer system in partnership with western states, which may result in a regional single-payer system, or a robust public option that would bring competition to the health insurance market while bringing down costs. He also promotes reinsurance for rural areas, which has potential for reducing cost by 25 percent. This policy closes the coverage gap and allows working families to afford ACA plans. Polis will create a statewide geographic rating to reduce the expenses of mountain area residents. He supports women’s reproductive freedom and will continue to fund Planned Parenthood, which provides affordable health care to uninsured Grand County women. Polis also has specific plans for mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention which are important issues for our county.
Walker Stapleton, the Republican candidate, is short on specifics in his health care plan.
Stapleton voices support for ending Connect for Health Colorado, and decries the cost of the Medicaid expansion — though most of that money comes from the federal government — and eliminating that funding leaves 873 Grand County residents at risk for losing health care insurance coverage completely.
Without the Medicaid expansion, the rural providers will have less of a patient base and our hospitals will lose approximately 33 percent of their revenue. Stapleton promotes “association plans” set up by trade groups or business associations and short-term plans as well as catastrophic coverage to help provide lower cost insurance. The problem with these kinds of plans is that they don’t guarantee good coverage, can leave out categories of benefits/coverage and can impose annual/lifetime limits on coverage. So, while they may have lower premiums, they leave consumers on the hook for increased costs and risks. Colorado has tried these low cost plans, called junk or sham insurance by some, and they haven’t worked.
Stapleton claims to be in favor of retaining the part of the ACA that prevents insurance companies from excluding people with pre-existing conditions and allow young adults to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26, yet wants to do away with much of the ACA that actually provides access to coverage. In Grand County, those protections won’t mean much if the ACA goes away.
Polis recently unveiled a plan to lower healthcare costs by 40 percent in rural areas. His roadmap is well thought-out and supports rural residents. In contrast, it is obvious that health care is not an issue that Stapleton has prioritized.
Dismantling our health care system is easy. Forming one that works for families and small business takes leadership and innovation. We all need affordable health care. It affects the entire fiber of our community.
Polis is the obvious choice.
Deb Thomas-Dobersen, a resident of Tabernash, is retired after 40 years working as a provider in the health care field in Denver.
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