Colorado lawmakers won’t vote this year on a controversial bill to create a hybrid public option health insurance program, bill sponsors announced Monday.
The bill passed its first committee in March — the same week Colorado confirmed its first cases of coronavirus. It’s the second high-profile bill Democrats have given up on in recent days because of the coronavirus pandemic, the first being the paid family leave bill.
“This was an unwelcome coincidence that saw the very people struggling to afford health care be the first ones hit by a life-threatening health care pandemic,” the public option bill’s sponsors said in a news release.
House Bill 1349 would have provided Coloradans who purchased insurance on the individual market another choice through private insurance and would have required hospitals to accept the plan. The Colorado Health Care Option was targeted to start by Jan. 1, 2022.
“While our state battles COVID-19, we note that this crisis is illuminating the vast gaps in our healthcare system,” said Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, in the announcement. “As the economic devastation unfolds and more Coloradans lose their access to employer-based insurance, it’s more clear than ever that our system is broken and that Coloradans deserve more choice and lower prices.”
Sponsors said they want to make sure consumers, health care providers and others who would be affected can take part in the process, which they can’t do during the pandemic.
Before lawmakers went into recess March 14, Roberts told The Denver Post lawmakers knew that pulling the bill could be a possibility.
“While we are withdrawing the bill for this session, we remain committed to developing affordable health care options that increase access and competition in every part of Colorado,” Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, said in a statement Monday.
The bill was the centerpiece of Democrats’ 2020 session agenda to make care more affordable for Coloradans. It faced staunch opposition from the Colorado Hospital Association and some health care systems who argued that the public-private plan could put them out of business. Starting before the bill was formally introduced in March, local trade groups and national dark-money campaigns spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads to fight against the public-private insurance option.
The Colorado Hospital Association thanked the bill’s sponsors in a statement Monday afternoon for withdrawing the bill, citing the effects of the pandemic on the state’s health care system.
“This public health crisis has changed many things for Coloradans personally, for our health
care system and for our state,” said Chris Tholen, CHA president and CEO. “It has illustrated the critical role that hospitals play to serve their communities, respond to crises and protect the health of our state. It has also demonstrated how crucial it is to support our health care infrastructure – including protecting our front-line workers and facilities that are essential to pandemic response.”
Tholen said the group looks forward to working with lawmakers again soon on health care solutions “that do not adversely impact Colorado hospitals,” which he said will have lost a projected $3 billion because of the pandemic by the end of the year.
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