A Healthier Colorado With Universal Healthcare and Transparency

HealthcareMy vision for a healthier Colorado is driven by one basic principle -- that there is a fundamental right for all Coloradans to have quality health care. Care must be affordable for all individuals, and fiscally feasible for the state.  Colorado is experiencing rising healthcare premiums, especially in rural areas where many communities have only one provider. Families receive bills that are thousands of dollars more expensive because a parent drove their child to “the out of network” hospital or the Free Standing Emergency Department (FSED) in their time of need. There is an opioid addiction crisis that has quietly spread across our state, and has become an epidemic that is deeply connected to our lack of treatment for those with mental health disorders (many of which are treatable).

Interstate Compact for Universal Healthcare
Colorado faces healthcare challenges across the board, and our existing healthcare system has yet to find a solution that effectively addresses universal coverage or cost. Transparency is an intermediate measure that will help contain costs, but a universal healthcare market shows great promise as a strong long-term fix. I do not believe creating a universal healthcare market at the state level is financially efficient enough, Colorado may end up doing more harm than good for its people if we try to walk that path alone.

That is why I have been working with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) to create an interstate health care compact between Colorado, California, and other western progressive states to ensure that all our citizens can have affordable, high-quality health care. By expanding the patient pool across multiple states, our public health care system will have more power to lower costs, expand coverage, and improve care for all.

Driving Down Costs of Pharmaceuticals
When Colorado partners with other western states to create a regional healthcare marketplace, we will have a share of the healthcare market that is larger than anywhere else in the United States. This will give Colorado and our other state partners negotiating power that exceeds other markets. We will not tolerate medical costs that are unjustifiably high -- we will stand strong in fighting for Coloradans against the criminally high pharmaceutical prices that many residents face, and will begin to cut the cost curve here, where we know there are improvements to be made.

Controlling Costs
Colorado’s state health care spending has risen significantly in the recent past. As of 2013, personal health care costs in Colorado had more than quadrupled over the previous two decades. More than 33¢ of every $1 spent in our state goes to healthcare, but our healthcare system does not serve all our constituents well enough. At the current pace, we will bankrupt the state trying to provide care for everyone. Our policy should not focus on putting more money into a broken system, we need to make improvements, and expand coverage to all Coloradans under a system that serves everyone better.

As governor, all policies I support will work towards lowering healthcare costs, and expanding coverage. We must be more efficient with our healthcare dollars, and as Governor, I will utilize new transparency measures to identify major cost drivers, and pursue effective policy that curbs costs while fighting to expand coverage to every single Coloradan.

Increasing Transparency in Colorado’s Healthcare System
One common factor among many of our healthcare challenges is a lack of transparency. The majority of us don’t understand why prices for care vary so greatly, what the true cost of care is, or simply, if we are getting a good deal on our health coverage.

This lack of transparency prevents competition between health networks, and enables healthcare corporations to function behind closed doors -- without accountability from the market, or the people -- two pillars of our functioning democracy.  When you buy a car, you can compare price, quality, safety record, and more. Coloradans should have the same opportunity to compare relevant information about knee replacements or hip replacements so they can make informed decisions that best meet their needs. Increased price transparency will help our people make informed decisions, will induce competition among health networks (driving down prices), and will give our government a stronger hold on what the main causes of our increasing healthcare costs are, and what policies we can implement to contain those costs.

As Governor, I will push for policy that ensures hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies increase transparency around pricing of services and estimated out-of-pocket cost to the patient, so Coloradans can make informed healthcare choices. With initiatives to increase transparency we can create real competition between healthcare networks, drive down costs, improve quality, and expand coverage to more Coloradans.

Opioid Addiction Crisis and Treatment
The opioid epidemic has spread throughout Colorado communities like wildfire, someone dies from an overdose approximately every 36 hours. Reversing this epidemic will require thoughtful policy that looks at the whole picture. My first step as Governor will be to create a cabinet level position entrusted with building the coalition across our state to make a difference.

  • This cabinet will be primarily tasked with finding ways to expand treatment to areas that lack it. Every county with high rates of opioid abuse must have a facility that offers Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT).
  • Second, this cabinet will be tasked with creating a database of treatment options, and nearby facilities that those suffering from addiction can access. Today’s treatment programs largely fail to coordinate with one another. After someone undergoes detox and an initial rehabilitation program, they may be released to a halfway house, or pushed straight back into society. Full recovery requires coordinated treatment plans, recovery does not occur overnight. Colorado could play a vital role in helping those addicted, and their families in understanding treatment options, and in creating a database for those seeking treatment to find options that will help them fully recover from their addiction.  
  • Third, this cabinet will be tasked with identifying pilot programs that have proven to be successful in tackling the opioid epidemic. For example, in Routt County doctors reduced opioid usage by 40%, by reducing the number of opioids they were prescribing. This was as simple as giving patients alternative pain management options prior to prescribing opioids. We should explore the expansion of pilot programs like these to make the greatest impact.
  • Finally, Colorado should work with doctors to expand the use of our Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). This database records prescriptions and helps doctors identify patients who might be doctor hopping to obtain several opioid prescriptions. Current legislation has not worked well enough with doctors to create a system that helps doctors efficiently use the database, and treat patients.  I will expect this cabinet to work with Colorado health community to find a collaborative system that ensures this system is used without unduly burdening Colorado’s medical professionals.

Mental Health
As a state, we must also recognize the importance of mental health care – more than 85% of people suffering from mental health issues can be helped if treated. We need to improve access to and reduce the stigma of seeking help. The impacts of not treating people with mental-health issues fall on families, businesses, schools, first responders, and the criminal justice system. There are several policies I want to pursue as Governor. I believe that mental healthcare and physical healthcare should receive equal coverage. Many of our rural areas struggle to attract enough mental health providers and as Governor, I will look to create incentives that drive mental health providers towards areas of high need. Finally, we must make reforms to our justice system so those with mental health issues get treated, not punished. This will relieve a heavy burden from the taxpayers, and more importantly is the right thing to do.

Improving Care for our Veterans
Though the governor of Colorado does not directly control health benefits for our veterans, from urban to rural communities, I continue to hear about veterans struggles to secure high-quality health care. As governor, I will work with our congressional delegation to ensure that Colorado’s leaders in Washington are actively fighting for our veterans returning from combat.