Health Care Help for the Middle Class | The Bell Policy Center

Health Care Help for the Middle Class

Date: Mar 8, 2017

Colorado’s Western Slope and rural counties have the highest health insurance rates in the state and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne wants to provide quick help so working people can better afford health insurance.

She’s supporting financial assistance to bring down the cost of health insurance for people earning between 400 and 500 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $98,000 to $123,000 per year for a family of four.

“It would allow middle class families to jump on the exchange (Connect for Health Colorado) as soon as July 1 of this year,” Lynne said during a recent speech to health advocates at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative’s annual day of action.

Lynne is pushing for about $6 million in this year’s budget to support the temporary subsidies during the 2017-18 fiscal year.

“Health care is a right, not a privilege,” Lynne said.

She vowed that she and Gov. John Hickenlooper will fight to preserve improvements that the Affordable Care Act has brought.

“If the proposed plan hurts Coloradans, we will fight ‘repeal and replace.’ We will fight block grants. We will have to spin our wheels quickly depending on what comes at us,” Lynne said.

She celebrated Colorado’s Medicaid expansion and Colorado’s health exchange, which together have helped more than 600,000 additional Coloradans get health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, people earning up to 400 percent of poverty qualify for federal subsidies to bring down the cost of health care. In 2016, these subsidies helped Coloradans save nearly $300 per month on average.

However, as we at the Bell have noted, many of those living in Colorado’s most expensive counties are feeling squeezed by health care costs. They earn too much to qualify for subsidies but not enough to afford the high cost of living. Residents in resort areas face not only high health expenses but pricey housing and child care costs as well. Analysts with the Colorado Health Institute report that middle class Coloradans in these communities feel forced into making tough choices in order to make their budgets work. Pay for health insurance or college tuition? Get help for a sick child or save $200 on the office visit co-pay? Stay in the place you’ve called home for 15 years or move to Denver for lower insurance rates?

Lynne, a former health insurance executive with Kaiser Permanente, said she’s been brainstorming solutions and talking with stakeholders for several months and is trying to provide quick help.

That’s how she settled on the idea of providing financial assistance for 18 months to people living in areas of the state with the highest health insurance rates.

Lynne and Governor Hickenlooper are also considering other proposals aimed at improving health coverage and cost. The Denver Business Journal reports that those ideas include:

  • Asking Colorado hospitals to share greater detail about their revenues and expenditures with the state.
  • An effort to make the high costs of freestanding emergency rooms more transparent to patients.
  • A proposal to require greater transparency around pharmaceutical costs, following a similar effort that failed in 2016.
  • A bill to allow city and county governments to participate in the state government’s employee benefits plan to improve their bargaining power with insurers and reduce their premium costs.
  • A measure offering some state help to fight the growing opioid-abuse epidemic.

The Bell will track these proposals and analyze their ability to help working Coloradans get ahead and stay ahead.