Peter Roper, The Pueblo Chieftain
Gov. Jared Polis told a crowded auditorium here that state lawmakers have a “historic opportunity” this year to dramatically reduce the cost of health care to the public, especially those paying for their own insurance.
He joined Senate President Leroy Garcia and state Rep. Daneya Esgar at Pueblo Community College for a 90-minute question period on health care issues and the three Democrats discussed a list of bills in the Legislature aimed at lowering costs.
“This is the year it is realistic to get them done,” Polis said, getting applause from the crowd of about 150 people in the Hoag Recital Hall.
One would create a reinsurance program to help cover the costs of high-price medical procedures and insurance premiums — a problem faced by Southern Colorado and Western Slope residents.
Polis said eight other states already have federal permission to have reinsurance programs and Colorado would be the ninth. He predicted that could save consumers in those high-priced regions between 15 and 30 percent on their insurance costs.
“Anytime you lower health-insurance costs, you’re also increasing access by making it more affordable,” he said.
Similarly, there is legislation to let the state import prescription drugs from Canada — it would also require permission from the federal government.
Garcia pointed out that prescription drugs in Canada often are four or five times cheaper than in the U.S. cheaper than in the U.S.
Polis added, “Don’t let special interests in the way, Obviously, there are those who profit in this.”
The governor warned it could take a year to get federal waivers in place but said there was bipartisan support for doing that.
“President Trump says he wants to see innovation,” Polis said in an obvious challenge to the administration. He noted that Vermont is leading the way in trying to get permission to import prescription drugs.
Esgar added that while Democrats now control the governor’s office, Senate and House, there is Republican support on many of the health care bills coming through the Legislature this year, such as one measure to make hospitals fully report their costs.
Polis put it this way — “People are tired of how much they pay for health care and of getting ripped off.”
Esgar pointed to a bill she is working on to address unexpected “out-of-network” medical costs which a consumer can get hit with, even if they have followed all the rules of their insurance policy. Those bills can be thousands of dollars, she said.
Vice chairman of the important Joint Budget Committee, Esgar said she has the support of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative as well as cautious support from the Colorado Hospital Association, insurance companies and even doctors.
Garcia fielded a question about shoring up the chronic shortage of staff at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. Over the past two years, he has successfully pushed the Department of Human Services to accept paramedics for some staff positions at the state hospital but said more needed to be done.
“It’s not just about paramedics, but hiring other allied health professionals as well,” he said.
He praised Polis for nominating Michelle Barnes to be the new director of DHS, which oversees the 449-bed CMHIP. Barnes formerly ran an executive consulting company that provided interim chief executives to non-profits and other organizations.
“I know Michelle Barnes is interested in hearing our perspectives,” he said.
Esgar noted the JBC already has authorized money for an additional 42 beds at the state hospital and supports adding 64 additional staff as well.
Those measures are intended to help settle a long-standing federal lawsuit against DHS that argues it takes too long for people in jail to get court-ordered mental-health treatments at CMHIP.
Polis said he would be touring CMHIP after Saturday’s forum.
“We are inheriting that situation,” he noted but added he was confident Barnes could improve the hospital.
See the original article here.