Time to fix health law

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John In­gold

Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper said Fri­day that the fail­ure of Repub­li­can-led ef­forts to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act means it is time to “roll up our sleeves” and work on mea­sures to im­prove the health law.

Hick­en­looper’s com­ments came dur­ing an in­ter­view with Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio. Hours ear­lier, Democrats and three Repub­li­cans in the U.S. Se­nate joined to­gether to re­ject the lat­est plan for rolling back the ACA, also known as Oba­macare. Hick­en­looper and a bi­par­ti­san group of other gov­er­nors had op­posed the plan.

“I don’t think it’s a time for cel­e­bra­tion; it’s a time to roll up our sleeves,” Hick­en­looper told NPR.

“What we’ve got to do now is say … ‘How can we get Repub­li­cans and Democrats to work to­gether and make the sys­tem bet­ter?’ “

Lead­ers of lo­cal health care ad­vo­cacy groups echoed that thought later on Fri­day in a call with reporters. “I don’t think any­body thinks we’re done,” said Elis­a­beth Are­nales, the di­rec­tor of the health pol­icy pro­gram at the Colorado Cen­ter on Law and Pol­icy. “We have the fed­eral bud­get con­ver­sa­tion com­ing up, and Med­i­caid is still very much at risk. We still have a lot of work to do to shore up the in­di­vid­ual mar­ket.”

Still, the ad­vo­cates ex­pressed re­lief that Congress’ lat­est re­peal plan had failed. Adela Flores-Bren­nan, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Colorado Con­sumer Health Ini­tia­tive, said crit­ics of the ACA had cor­rectly iden­ti­fied one of its prob­lems — ris­ing costs in the in­di­vid­ual in­sur­ance mar­ket that make plans in­creas­ingly bur­den­some.

“The an­swer, the re­sponse to that,” she said of the GOP plans, “was to de­vise pro­pos­als that had no hope of achiev­ing bet­ter af­ford­abil­ity.”

She urged law­mak­ers to work to­gether to fix is­sues in the law that both par­ties agree ex­ist.

In his NPR in­ter­view, Hick­en­looper iden­ti­fied sev­eral prob­lems he sees with the cur­rent health in­sur­ance law, in­clud­ing rel­a­tively lower en­roll­ment rates by young, healthy peo­ple and the pres­ence in in­sur­ance pools of se­ri­ously sick pa­tients whose care drives up costs for every­one else. He sug­gested that the se­ri­ously ill could per­haps be cov­ered separately through what is known as a high-risk pool — some­thing Colorado tried once be­fore with mixed re­sults — or that the govern­ment could give ex­tra money to in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to help shoul­der the cost of the most ex­pen­sive ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

Hick­en­looper also spoke of pos­si­bly re­duc­ing the ben­e­fits that plans are re­quired to of­fer ev­ery­body. He gave the ex­am­ple of women in their 50s hav­ing to pay for ma­ter­nity cov­er­age, “which they don’t need.”

“In many cases they don’t make a big dif­fer­ence in terms of cost,” Hick­en­looper said. “But I think it’s time to sit down and say, ‘Let’s go through each one of those cases where peo­ple are hav­ing to pay for some­thing they don’t need and make sure it’s some­thing they do need and how can we get that cost down to the low­est level for in­di­vid­u­als?'”

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