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Pelosi Offers Clues to Democrats’ Health Agenda in Colorado Visit

Careful listeners at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s health care town hall in Colorado on Wednesday could learn a lot more from what she didn’t say than what she did.

Three words that were never uttered during the hourlong event: Medicare for All.

Instead, look for House Democrats to focus on strengthening the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cutting high drug prices.

Pelosi visited as a guest of Rep. Joe Neguse, a first-term Democrat from Colorado’s 2nd Congressional district, which is centered on Boulder. The Broomfield event was tightly scripted, with Neguse asking most of the questions.

The format gave Pelosi a chance to pitch her priority: protecting and building on the ACA.

She called the law “a pillar of financial and health stability for America’s families,” on par with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

“We know we can improve upon it. Colorado is leading the way in that work,” she said.

Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway shared the stage with Pelosi and Neguse, and he talked about the state’s new reinsurance program and legislative efforts to cut surprise billing.

State Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon) asked Pelosi about high prescription drug prices — especially for insulin, a drug that has been used for decades but recently saw its prices skyrocket.

Pelosi said she supports legislation to allow the federal government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. She hopes President Trump will support the measure, because he has promoted the idea in the past.

“The insulin situation is a complete, total obscenity,” she said.

Pelosi noted the ACA did not address prescription drug prices. But for most other reforms to the health system, she sees the ACA as the structure to build upon.

In particular, she wants to see a greater use of health coverage navigators — for which the Trump administration cut funding — and a public option for health insurance.

That stance aligns her with Democratic moderates, such as Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and former Vice President Joe Biden.

While she did not mention presidential candidates by name, her support of the public option pits her against two leading candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. They both back a single-payer national health care system under the slogan “Medicare for All.”

The takeaway: If Democrats win the White House in 2020, look for them to recommit to the ACA and add a public option for coverage. And if Warren or Sanders win the presidency, they’ll have their hands full in convincing Democrats to switch to a single-payer system.

One final unspoken message from Wednesday’s event: Keep an eye on Neguse. He’s only been in Congress for eight months, and he got the Speaker of the House to attend a town hall in his district.

Colorado Democrats have called him a rising star. The event with Pelosi made clear that national Democrats see him the same way.

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Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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