Containing health care costs is a hot topic this legislative session, and now there’s a new bill from the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that aims to tackle the issue head on. Introduced last week, the bill would establish Colorado’s first-ever commission on affordable health care. The group would conduct an in-depth analysis of Colorado’s health care cost drivers and recommend ways to contain costs while improving health care access and quality.
The 12-member commission would include representation from hospitals, providers, consumer groups, businesses, insurance carriers and subject-matter experts. The bill specifies that commission members must represent both urban and rural areas and be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Commission members would be appointed by the governor and legislative leadership in both parties.
Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver) and Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) are sponsoring the bill in the Senate. At the bill’s hearing on Wednesday, both said that Colorado must identify bipartisan solutions to address the critical issue of rising health care costs.
“This is a conversation that can’t be delayed,” said Roberts.
Supporters came out in full force at the committee hearing with insurance companies, advocacy groups, business organizations and provider trade associations all testifying in favor. They urged lawmakers to support the measure, emphasizing the commission’s potential to identify innovations to rein in costs and improve access to care.
“The rising cost of health care is the most compelling economic factor confronting the country today,” testified Alfred Gilchrist, CEO of the Colorado Medical Society. “The decisions made by state legislatures are only going to get more difficult as health care continues to take money away from other vital infrastructure issues…We’ve got to do something about it.”
No one testified against the bill, but Republican lawmakers voiced several concerns. Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) said that enhanced competition – not another government-mandated commission – is the key to lowering health care costs.
“The more we mandate and control, the less we’re going to have a competitive system,” said Lundberg. “Health care costs are never going to change until there’s a true competitive environment to provide the best service at the best price.”
Lundberg and other Republicans also speculated that the commission would be more of the “same old, same old” and wouldn’t produce concrete results or “outside the box” solutions.
But Marc Reece of the Colorado Association of Health Plans disagreed. “Until you force diverse interest groups to sit at the same table and look each other in the eye to discuss these issues, true creative solutions will continue to be excluded,” said Reece.
The bill passed the Senate health committee 5-2 with Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) providing the sole Republican vote. Crowder said he was a “reluctant yes” but was “willing to take a shot” on the legislation. The bill now heads to the Appropriations committee where lawmakers will need to approve the bill’s $400,000 fiscal note before it can be debated by the full Senate.