A long-awaited, locally sponsored bill that aims to make health insurance more affordable for some Coloradans will now head to Governor Jared Polis’ office to be signed into law.
The bill, which passed a final vote Monday night in the state House of Representatives, aims to create a lower-cost, higher-quality option on the Colorado health insurance exchange for individuals. and small market groups.
It was sponsored by two local lawmakers: Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.
“We’ve been working on this bill for several years now…it’s been a long time coming and it’s very exciting and a relief to get it across the finish line,” Roberts said Tuesday.
The bill affects people who benefit from individual plans or small market groups. This is crucial in Eagle County, which is one of 10 counties in the state that offers only one health insurance option in the individual market, Roberts said.
“That’s the number one problem I hear from people in Eagle County is ‘my insurance premium keeps going up and I can’t buy anything else.’ I just have to either buy what’s on offer or go without insurance,’ and too many people were going there without insurance,” he said.
House Bill 1232, also known as the “Colorado Option” bill, has gone through 21 amendments since Roberts first introduced it with co-sponsor Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora. Governor Polis has been pushing for this type of legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law.
Many of the bill’s most significant changes occurred during discussions in the House Health and Insurance Committee. end of April.
The bill as originally drafted would have required the health care industry to cut costs by 20% by 2024 or else a public health care option would be created.
This public option would have been at least 20% cheaper in every county than the average premium rates offered by private insurers, according to previous versions of the bill.
The creation of a public option was removed from the bill fairly quickly and now focuses on regulating private insurance to lower premiums.
Today, the bill directs the Colorado Insurance Commissioner to work with stakeholders to develop a new standard health benefit plan by next January. Insurers are expected to offer the standard plan in the counties where they operate, starting in 2023, and reduce premiums by a total of 15% over three years.
“My goal since serving as the state representative for Eagle County and Routt County has always been to reduce the cost of insurance and increase choice,” Roberts said.
“I was prepared to make changes to the bill as long as we preserve those two goals and the bill as it stands absolutely preserves those two goals and will do a lot of very good things for our state, especially mountain counties which suffer from very high health insurance costs and a lack of choice,” he said.
Even with these concessions, the bill passed both the House and the Senate without the support of a single Republican, with some Democrats also voting “no”.
The final vote in the House was 41 to 23, as a lawmaker was not present.
“We achieved the goals we were trying to accomplish,” Roberts said. “If it doesn’t look exactly like we thought it would at first, that’s okay because we know we have a bill that will work.”
Some of the bill’s opponents have expressed concerns about the effects it could have on the health care industry. When considered in the Senate late last monththe amendments championed by opponents watered down or removed penalties for hospitals and healthcare providers who refuse to accept Colorado’s option.
An overly punitive approach to installing a standardized health insurance plan would drive health care providers out of Colorado, they said.
Working across the aisle is important to Roberts, he said, but in this case that venture seemed doomed from the start. From the start, health care industry lobbyists in Colorado and out of state opposed the bill — and spoke out, he said.
“They had dozens of lobbyists here on Capitol Hill who were getting colossal sums of money to try to kill this bill and unfortunately the other side of the aisle kind of locked in against politics and that’s their choice to make,” Roberts said.
“This bill is also going to help their constituents, and that’s great,” he added.
The plan will be released early next year, when private health insurance companies will begin making plans to meet the bill’s premium reduction targets, Roberts said.
The goal is to have the standardized plan ready for open enrollment in the fall of 2022 so that benefits can take effect in January 2023, he said.