Colorado Stays Focused on Rising Costs

Colorado does not have to wait for Congress to act on health care reform. Final recommendations released late last month by the bipartisan Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care prove our state has plenty of policy tools at its disposal to rein in rapidly rising health costs. While Congressional Republicans are busy crafting bills which will destabilize our system of coverage and shift costs to consumers and state budgets, Colorado can lead the way in pursuing changes that have the potential to actually limit those costs.

If it seems like health care costs are gobbling up more and more of your budget, it’s because they are. In 2015, health costs represented nearly 10 percent of Coloradans median incomes and grew at a faster pace than wages. This trend is projected to continue. According to earlier research done by the Commission, by the end of the decade, health care costs will grow by 7 percent per year in Colorado. This creates financial pain for Colorado families, employers, and our government.

Enter the Commission. Over the past three years, it has studied the biggest drivers of rising health care costs in our state, heard from experts and advocates, combed through Colorado-specific data sets, and talked with Coloradans from communities across the state. Its recommendations are built upon this multi-year process and offer many choices for Colorado. They include strategies to target price transparency, support the health care workforce, reform how we pay for health services, and better align and invest in services which improve how people live, work, and learn, which can in turn improve their health.

Some of the Commission’s recommendations affirm strategies policymakers are already pursuing to push back on factors which increase health costs. For example, increasing cost and price transparency is a priority for the Commission and has also been a hot legislative topic. Legislators in the 2017 session heard (ultimately failed) bills which shed light on pharmaceutical drugs prices and made it easier to find information about hospital administrative costs and uncompensated care. The Commission also urges the collection of more complete and public information about doctor charges, paying special attention to location, as part of the state’s effort to alleviate the cost burden in rural and western Colorado.

Other recommendations urge Colorado to think beyond traditional “health spending” and place greater emphasis on social services, such as housing and education. Over 60 percent of “health” is the result of social, environmental and behavioral factors and a review of research finds that addressing these factors can lead to a major return on investment. The report offers ideas for how the state could actualize that return on investment, including folding in funding for housing and employment within our Medicaid system, creating a statewide screening and referral system for children who experience stressful or traumatic events, and investing in quality preschool for children insured through Medicaid.

The Commission’s work matters because rising health care costs are a problem that the leading Congressional health reform proposals aren’t sincerely addressing. It’s up to states like ours to lead the way.