“The Colorado Option”–It’s All About Saving People Money

Gov. Jared Polis (D).

Yesterday, Sen. Kerry Donovan and Rep. Dylan Roberts and the Democratic majority in the Colorado General Assembly rolled out a major new piece of legislation to create a competitive option for individual market health insurance plans, with specific regulatory requirements to save consumers significant amounts of money without compromising care–The Denver Post’s Saja Hindi reports:

Although Democrats are preparing for a contentious fight about the proposal they’re calling the Colorado Option, they say they believe they can pass it.

The bill would provide Coloradans who purchase insurance on the individual market another choice by the state through private insurance. It targets counties that only have one option, aiming to create competition and lower premiums. Hospitals would be required to participate, and it would begin by Jan. 1, 2022.

If everyone on the individual market opts to use the plan, that’s about 8% of Coloradans, bill sponsors have said, with room for expansion. In some rural parts of the state, participation is expected to be higher.

Denver7’s Blair Miller:

Supporters of the new bill say that for too long, consumers have been asked to pay too much for their health care coverage and this fixes a gap in Colorado’s current system.

Part of the idea behind the bill is to create competition between insurance companies to help drive down costs. Currently, there is only one insurance option in 22 counties across the state. With the creation of the public option, each county would have at least two options.

“The days of being forced to pay outrageous premiums because it’s the only option will be over,” Rep. Dylan Roberts said. “Every single Coloradoan will have competition in the market regardless of where they live when this bill passes.”

For months now, the airwaves in Colorado have been overloaded with ads attacking a so-called “public option” or “government option” health care plan, along with the federal health care reform proposals from Democratic presidential candidates like “Medicare for All.” These ads generally rely on clouding or eliminating altogether the distinctions between these very different concepts, and it’s unclear whether they’ve been effective in tamping down majority support for such a plan we’ve seen in recent polls.

Unfortunately, the rollout of this legislation in Colorado hasn’t been well-served either by opponents hammering away for months about legislation that didn’t even exist yet, or the early references in the local press to what we are going to call the Colorado Option and stick with it–message discipline 101 here, folks–as a “public option.” Because, as the Colorado Sun’s John Ingold reports way below the fold his story today,

When lawmakers first began talking about this idea last year, they talked about wanting to create a “public option.” But what the state has come up with here, technically, is not that. [Pols emphasis] In wonk-speak, a public option refers to an insurance plan that is run by the government — like the ideas being floated on the presidential campaign trail to allow people to buy into Medicare coverage.

But Colorado lawmakers and state officials, not wanting to put the state budget at risk by creating a government-run insurance company, decided to go with this privatized but heavily regulated approach. We at The Sun have continued to refer to this proposal as a “public option,” mostly for continuity and lack of a better name…

But reportedly the Sun is going to stop calling it a “public option” now, and we’d say that’s a positive development for getting a bill passed. Given that the final legislation does not meet the technical definition of a “public option” in any sense, and that the words “public option” have been the target of a well-funded negative ad campaign from for-profit hospitals and the health insurance industry, proponents would do well to purge those two unfairly loaded words from their vocabulary.

The winning message for the Colorado Option is to keep it simple, and focus on the theme Gov. Jared Polis has defined for health care policy in Colorado under his administration: saving people money on health care. Keeping the message of tangible savings for consumers front and center without politically charged buzzwords effectively sidesteps the negative messaging from opponents. And if it comes to it, don’t be afraid to make for-profit hospitals and insurers explain their massive profits.

The steps Gov. Polis and the legislature are taking to bring down health care costs are not just good policy, they’re politically invaluable to Democrats. Much like the reinsurance bill Gov. Polis signed into law last year, which has been so successful that Republicans like Sen. Cory Gardner actually tried to take credit for it, what matters is the end result.

14 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. MichaelBowman says:

    Great news. Is there a list of the 22 counties eligible for the plan? 

    “[p]hilosophically, they are going to be opposed to anything that changes the status quo,”

    You could take this narrative and insert 'coal-fired power' and 'renewable energy' and 'War on Rural Colorado' and expect we'll hear the same old, tired talking points we did a decade ago about energy transitions.  We do love to cling to old ways in the rural parts.  

    Only a fool dies of thirst when he's surrounded by water. We're a state full of smart people and abundant resources.  Having health insurance out of reach in rural areas is simply unacceptable.  We've stood by for years while our then-Congressman-now-senator in CD-4 kept the flames of hate for ACA well-stoked while voting over 60+ times for repeal – all while bald-face lying to his constituents about the existence of a replacement plan.  

    Somebody grab a box of Jerry's Obama Tears and keep them handy.  You're going to need them while the expected drama plays out. 

    • Pseudonymous says:

      Based on this report, 22 counties only have Anthem plans available.  Teasing things out from the charts, they are: Dolores, Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Jackson, Lake, Logan, Moffat, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Phillips, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, San Juan, San Miguel, Sedgwick, Washington, Yuma


      • MichaelBowman says:

        Thx.  Looks like five of the 22 are in SD-1.  

        • Pseudonymous says:

          I realized that this improvement to the list would be trivial, so I included population.

          • MADCO says:

            1. Why only 22 of the whole 64?

            Colorado counties with less than 5000 people should merge with a neighboring county. It's a waste of taxpayer resources., though it's nice make work program for county supervisors.

            40-50 million people  – 58 counties

            2. How is this not "welfare" for the rural residents of Colorado?
            I know they're ok with welfare for the rural areas – just not for the metrum.


            • MichaelBowman says:

              1. those 22 have only one insurance option (Anthem).  Can we call this a free market failure? 

              Agreed.  Washington/Yuma should combine.  We already have a combined 911 dispatch facility in Yuma (that would probably require the Court House to be moved from Wray to Yuma). Sedwick/Phillips should fold into Logan.  

              Arizona has 7mm people and only 15 counties; conversely Kansas has 2.9mm people and 105 counties. 

              2.  Yes, it’s welfare.  But even if your small child is throwing a tantrum because they don’t want to take their medicine, you still make them take it, no?  

              • MADCO says:

                No one intentionally references Kansas anymore when it comes to rational governing. No one.

                Though I still love Josey Wales

                “Yeah, well, I always heard there were three kinds of suns in Kansas, sunshine, sunflowers, and sons-of-bitches”

                Of course, my sarcastic cynicism comes across as me being indifferent or some kind of way
                I have long believed medical insurance should work like electricity or water.
                Regulated market- with rates set by the PMC, who are elected.

                Especially when the hospitals are subsidized by Medicare.Then it wouldn’t matter there is only one plan – and in some rural areas I can hardly believe there is one.
                And this could be done at the state level. Could be done at the home rule level  – but let’s leave that kettle of fish for Maiday

                • MichaelBowman says:


                  You know I love to poke fun at my fellow D-stanners who decry welfare while it drips from the side of their mouths.  I did a quick calc on the five SD-1 counties on the ’18 election: 17,401 total votes cast for governor; 14,059 (81%) for the grandson of the klansman, 3,342 (19%) for JP.  

                  Thankfully Democrats take the challenges of governing seriously. This particular issue is one very personal to me.  A family member who could have benefitted from reasonable access and prices to health insurance has struggled for years.  All while boy wonder from Yuma has spent his years attacking and gutting ACA without any real alternatives (flat-ass lying about it).  For this there is little reason for forgiveness.  I know I speak for a great number of others in the rural parts who have struggled with the same issue.  

          • MichaelBowman says:

            Thanks for that update.  So SD-1 accounts for 12.64% (43,266) of the total. Sedgwick and Washington County only have clinics so this affects four hospitals: Wray, Yuma, Holyoke (all three are community district hospitals) and Sterling (Banner Health).  We have two wonderful, full-service hospitals/clinics serving the 10,069 residents of Yuma County and the surrounding area. 

  2. JohnInDenver says:

    One challenge … the assumption that

    Part of the idea behind the bill is to create competition between insurance companies to help drive down costs. Currently, there is only one insurance option in 22 counties across the state. With the creation of the public option, each county would have at least two options.

    Nothing mandates an insurance company to continue offering policies where they currently offer policies.  It could wind up that the public option drives the private option away. 

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