Health commission

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2009 at great political cost to Democrats, has been the signature legislation of the Obama presidency by turns deeply beloved and ferociously maligned. There is plenty of mythology surrounding the health-care law, owed to a mixture of its flaws, strengths, shortcomings and general ignorance about its components – both from those who support and oppose Obamacare. The bill does much good: Namely, it ensures that all Americans can have access to health insurance by removing a number of barriers that previously made it unattainable for far too many. What it does not do, to its great detriment, is meaningfully address the soaring cost of health care in the United States.

The Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care will take on that task at the state level, and it will be no easy endeavor. The panel spawned from bipartisan legislation passed in the 2014 session sponsored by Sens. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Irene Aguilar, D-Denver. It will face no small challenges in its three-year charge to craft policy recommendations for ways to lower health-care costs in the state. Roberts summed it starkly and succinctly at the commission’s convening meeting: “The task in front of you is Herculean. Tempers might flare, or differences of opinion might surface every single meeting.”

Indeed, the 17-member panel comprising doctors, insurance-industry representatives, hospital administrators and health-care policy experts will bring a wide-ranging and, at times, competing set of interests to the conversation. Striking compromise that produces meaningful change will not come quickly. It will require a collective commitment to finding critical consensus around an issue of growing concern for the state.

The group’s first task is to see what exactly is driving the rising cost of health care in Colorado. That alone will go a long way in demystifying – and by extension, depoliticizing – the rhetoric around who is to blame for the skyrocketing price of insurance premiums and care itself. From there, recommending policy changes that address those costs by means of an actionable and politically viable solution will be a feat requiring considerable effort. It is necessary, though.

As the state expands its Medicaid offerings according to the tenets of Obamacare, and the cost of doing so shifts over time from the federal government to Colorado, there is a long-term need to get costs under control in order that the state’s budget not bust. Similarly, individuals and employers cannot keep pace with the cost elevations; meaningful solutions are needed for all sectors.

Roberts was right to call attention to the fundamental issue associated with health care in Colorado and across the nation – and her measure creating the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care puts quite a bit of stock in the panel’s ability to tackle the problem. The commission has $400,000 for its first-year budget, and the bar is set high for it to get to work and stay on track, avoiding the significant temptation to allow political distractions to derail the work. The need is great; the stakes are high.

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