DENVER – Colorado health care experts and some lawmakers applauded yet another demise of the GOP’s effort to repeal part of the Affordable Care Act, but they recognized the debate is far from finished.
Three Republican senators joined Democrats in a 51-49 vote early Friday against the so called “skinny repeal,” which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would have cut insurance for 16 million Americans by 2026 and raised premiums by 20 percent.
“We are encouraged that the Senate has rejected efforts that would have raised health care costs, limited health care coverage and hurt hundreds of thousands of Coloradans,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper in a statement. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and deliver specific plans that will improve our health insurance system by lowering costs and providing stability for the marketplace.”
Hickenlooper is a member of a coalition of bipartisan governors who are calling for a new bill to be drafted in a transparent manner.
In a news call Friday, Elisabeth Arenales, health program director for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, said the “skinny repeal” would have undermined the ACA by removing the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to carry some form of insurance or pay a penalty.
“When you pull out the individual mandate, then you are left with a system where people can wait to get sick until they buy insurance, and you can’t have a health insurance system like that,” Arenales said. “You’ve got to have healthy people in.”
She said the individual mandate represents one of the “three pillars of the ACA,” which includes the guarantee of health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions and increased affordability and options.
The last of these has been the topic of attacks on the ACA because of rising premium rates across the nation. In Colorado, insurers requested an average premium increase of 27 percent for plans purchased on the individual market in 2018 and 7.46 percent for small market plans.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, said he would continue to seek a fix to the ACA and listed affordability and lack of options as the reasons for his vote in support of the “skinny repeal.”
“In Colorado right now, the impact of the (ACA) includes skyrocketing premiums, 145,000 Coloradans being forced to pay a fine to the IRS because they couldn’t afford the insurance plans offered and a health insurance market that leaves Coloradans living in two-thirds of counties in our state with two or fewer insurers to choose from,” Gardner said in a statement.
Kent Rogers, CEO of Southwest Health System, which includes Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, said his organization has opposed repeal efforts because they would undermine gains made by Colorado in reducing its uninsured population by nearly half, from 14.3 percent before the ACA to 6.7 in 2017.
The Better Care Reconciliation Act would have resulted in Mercy Regional Medical Center and Southwest Memorial losing an estimated $174 million combined by 2026, according to the American Hospital Association.
“The way it sits today, about 30 percent of our volume of business is Medicaid-enrolled people,” Rogers said.
The implications went beyond dollars and cents and into the quality of life for Coloradans, he said.
“When they have better access to health care, their whole social situation in life gets improved, not just their health status, but their confidence, their ability to change from one job to the next,” Rogers said. “So many parts of their life get improved when they have better access to health care.”