Governor Hawks Plans For Schools, Health Care

Health care and all-day kindergarten were the two main themes of Gov. Jared Polis' first trip to Grand Junction Friday since taking office.

After touring a kindergarten at Orchard Avenue Elementary School to highlight his call for free all-day kindergarten across the state, the new governor met with the Mesa County Health Leadership Consortium to talk about the health care bills working their way through the Colorado Legislature.

Later, he told The Daily Sentinel Editorial Board that there is no one way to lower the cost of health insurance and prescription drug prices.

"There's no silver bullet," Polis said. "The one thing everyone agrees on is prescription drugs. We should be tired of the prices on that. The EpiPen, for example. There's no difference medically between today's EpiPen and the EpiPen of 1987. It does the same exact thing, but it costs several times more."

The governor plans to push for a measure in the Legislature to address transparency in drug pricing, the details of which aren't yet known because the bill hasn't yet been introduced.

One drug-related bill the governor supports that has, however, is SB5, a measure that would allow drug wholesalers to import medications from Canada, which are cheaper. That bill, which cleared the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on Thursday, requires a waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to work, something no state has yet received.

Meanwhile, the House also on Thursday approved a measure to try to bring more transparency in hospital pricing, one that would require hospitals each year to report their costs and to show why private insurance plans pay more for care.

The bill passed on a party-line vote, 39-22, with all House Republicans voting against it. It heads to the Senate, where Democrats also hold the majority.

Polis said he hopes Democrats hold fast to the measure, saying transparency alone won't fix the issue, but can go a long way toward forcing prices down.

"For the market to work, there needs to be more information available for pricing," Polis said. "We're encouraging legislators to stay strong on these bills because they are so important to us to deliver on reducing hospital costs. We want to empower consumers and empower the market, and we want it to be as strong as possible when it reaches our desk."

The governor also touted another proposal that was introduced on Friday.

That idea, introduced by Dillon Democratic Rep. Julie McCluskie, whose district includes part of Delta County, calls for creating a reinsurance program. Such a program, which also would require federal approval, would provide insurance coverage for insurers by allowing them to file claims to help cover expensive claims from high-cost patients.

Oftentimes, a single person in any plan who has expensive medical issues can increase premiums for everyone.

"I heard in my own community, and in mountain and rural communities across the Western Slope, that access to affordable health is the single most greatest challenge for hardworking families," McCluskie said. "The time for action is now, and we must continue working across the aisle to help lower the cost of health care in our state."

One of the final major health care measures is one that won't come into play immediately, but potentially could have a major impact on the health insurance industry.

The measure, HB1004, calls on the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Division of Insurance to come up with a state option for health care coverage, such as a buy-in program to Medicaid.

Though some call such ideas a precursor to universal health care, the bill did get bipartisan support in the House Health & Insurance Committee a few weeks ago. The bill even has a Republican sponsor, Rep. Marc Catlin of Montrose.

"Generally speaking, the more alternatives, the more competition, the more choices that people have the better," Polis said of that bill. "It is something that should be looked at."

The governor departed Grand Junction in the late afternoon, heading to a health care town hall meeting in Summit County with several lawmakers, including Catlin, Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, and Sens. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.

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