David Williams, RealVail

As Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders rallies the far left around a “single-payer” healthcare system and  Republicans Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy try yet again to kill the Affordable Care Act, moderate attempts to bring down skyrocketing health-insurance costs seem doomed amidst the ongoing partisan rancor. This despite a record number of Coloradans with health insurance, thanks largely to the ACA.

 

“For the first time ever, over 5 million Coloradans have health insurance coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act, bringing our uninsured rate down to 6.5 percent,” said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. “This begs the question why Republicans in Congress are pushing a last-ditch effort to repeal the ACA, gut Medicaid, and undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions?”A new report called the 2017 Colorado Health Access Survey, produced by the Colorado Health Institute, found Colorado’s uninsured rate fell to an all-time low of 6.5 percent.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last week found the Trump administration is driving up the costs of the ACA by threatening to de-fund the program and pulling money from outreach to sign people up. And Congress has less than two weeks to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or 9 million kids could lose coverage.

 

In Colorado, which rejected a single-payer system last fall, insurance rates on the individual markets continue to spiral out of control, but bipartisan plans to shore up those markets in the short term do not appear to be gaining traction as Trumpcare begins to take shape — basically a comprehensive effort to undermine the ACA at all costs, even if average consumers bear the brunt of congressional inaction.

“Fewer Coloradans say they cannot afford insurance coverage, and, as much as Republicans seem to want to gut Medicaid, Coloradans enrolled in the program are generally pretty happy with their coverage,” Fox added. “The report highlights that affordability is still a challenge, especially in rural areas and for low-income Coloradans, but fewer Coloradans are struggling to pay their medical bills. Congress should be working to address the cost drivers in health care and to stabilize the individual market.”

Former small business owner Scott Tipton, a Republican who represents most of Colorado’s rural Western Slope in the sprawling 3rd Congressional District, points out that the Colorado Division of Insurance recently  approved average premium increases in the state’s individual health insurance market of 26.7 percent in 2018. Those rate increases will hit the Western Slope and other rural areas the hardest.

 

“This is on top of the 20 percent increase in 2017 and 24 percent increase in 2016,” Tipton wrote this week in a column and email to supporters. “The trajectory is unsustainable and unacceptable. We must repeal and replace the so-called Affordable Act and bring affordable health insurance to the 3rdCongressional District.”

Tipton in May voted in favor of the American Health Care Act that passed by four votes in the House before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had scored the bill. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat who represents the rest of Eagle County, voted against that bill, calling it a “devastating attack” on American health care, and the CBO ultimately determined it would lead to much higher premiums for people with preexisting conditions and more than 23 million people losing coverage.

Tipton may get another chance to kill the ACA if the last-ditch effort to pass the Cassidy-Graham bill in the Senate is successful before a looming Sept. 30 deadline. Fox says that would be a disaster.

“The very same people who have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act are again at risk of losing it with the Cassidy-Graham repeal bill being blitzed through the Senate,” Fox said. “[Colorado] Sen. [Cory] Gardner should heed his own calls for open hearings and bipartisanship as well as vote to protect the health care of 600,000 Coloradans who have coverage under the ACA and even more that rely on Medicaid programs covering seniors, people with disabilities, and children.”

Small business groups also oppose efforts to repeal the ACA.

“Since U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham remain determined to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is once again necessary to remind lawmakers that the ACA has greatly benefited America’s small businesses,” said Small Business Majority founder and CEO John Arensmeyer. “One in five ACA marketplace participants in 2014 was a small business owner or self employed. We must also remember the countless solo entrepreneurs with pre-existing conditions who were able to launch their own businesses because the ACA finally meant they could no longer be denied coverage.”

The group also pushed for a bipartisan solution to shore up the ACA.

“The CBO report said much of this uncertainty is due to President Trump’s refusal to guarantee federal cost-sharing subsidies that lower the deductibles and co-pays for the ACA’s low-income enrollees,” Arensmeyer added. “What the president does not recognize is small businesses nationwide depend on provisions of the ACA for health insurance coverage, which is why a bipartisan solution must be found that strengthens the law rather than undermining it.”

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