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Colorado House advances Democrat-backed insurance plan

May 7, 2021 GMT

DENVER (AP) — A Democrat-backed bill designed to curb health insurance costs for individuals and small businesses hit hard by the pandemic has advanced in the Colorado House.

Lawmakers worked from Thursday evening to early Friday debating the bill, which would require insurers to lower premiums for people and small businesses buying their own insurance by 18% by 2025 in any county where they now offer coverage. Democrats say the bill would make health care more affordable for 18,000 residents.

Health care providers, including hospitals, could be fined under the bill if they don’t reach those goals in part by offering a standardized plan to be developed by the commissioner of insurance.

The bill was dramatically revised following fierce opposition from the health care industry. The original version called for a so-called “public option” asking private insurance companies to reduce current premium rates for individual plans by 20% by 2024.

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If they didn’t meet that target, a nonprofit state-administered plan would have set price limits.

Gov. Jared Polis challenged lawmakers this year to create a state-administered health insurance option that could generate more competition in a market where many rural residents have few insurer options, even alongside the state health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

Colorado Politics reports Republicans argued during the overnight debate that the 18% goal has no data to support it and that more state involvement in the health insurance market will shift more costs to providers.

“There’s no actuarial analysis. All there is is this sort of pie-in-the-sky, ‘here’s what we like,’ and the challenge is it just doesn’t make sense,” said Republican House Minority Leader Hugh McKean. Especially in hard-hit rural areas, he said, doctors will have to accept a government-mandated rate “that says ‘go forth, but don’t prosper.’”

Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts, a co-sponsor, insisted the bill “is a narrowly targeted, careful and deliberate approach to a problem we have in our state, particularly in rural Colorado.”

Republicans offered amendments to allow voters to challenge the legislation, if it becomes law; get an actuarial analysis of the 18% figure; remove penalties for health care providers; and create an oversight board for the plan. All lost.

The chamber approved amendments by Roberts to clarify that a $5,000 fine for providers refusing to participate in the plan could be imposed once a year and that insurance commissioner decisions can be appealed to the courts.

The bill faces a final House vote before going to the state Senate.

Under Polis’ administration, Colorado’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has created a reinsurance market to compensate private insurers for their highest-cost cases; mandated hospital price transparency; and adopted consumer protections against surprise out-of-network medical bills.