Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy unveils health care plan with public option

Author: Ernest Luning - September 13, 2017 - Updated: September 13, 2017

Colorado gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy, a former state treasurer, speaks with voters prior to a forum sponsored by the El Paso County Democratic Party and the Colorado College Democrats on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, on the college's campus in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)Colorado gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy, a former state treasurer, speaks with voters prior to a forum sponsored by the El Paso County Democratic Party and the Colorado College Democrats on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, on the college’s campus in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, one of five Democrats running for governor in next year’s election, on Tuesday proposed allowing residents to purchase health insurance through Colorado’s Medicaid program or the state employee health plan in an effort to boost coverage while cutting costs.

“Everyone in Colorado must be able to get the health care they need affordably,” Kennedy said in a statement. “We can offer more choices, address the rural disparities in access and affordability — and lower costs. That’s why today I am proposing giving everyone in Colorado the ability to buy into our public health insurance plans. ”

While Kennedy supports a national plan to establish government-financed health care for every American — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was scheduled to unveil so-called Medicare-for-all legislation Wednesday — her plan would offer a public option at the state level rather than having to rely on polarized Washington to come up with coverage and affordability solutions.

“Today, I am making a promise to Colorado — we can do better,” Kennedy said. “My plan advances bold solutions that will help Coloradans access affordable, high quality healthcare services. We can do this here in our state, without waiting on Congress.”

She praised the progress Colorado has made under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare — 94 percent of adults and 97.5 percent of children have health insurance — but said her plan is intended to tackle problems that remain. Those include pricey premiums, prescription drugs and out-of-pocket costs and difficulty finding coverage and health care in many parts of the state, particularly rural Colorado.

Under Kennedy’s plan, state residents would be eligible to buy into Health First Colorado, the Medicaid program that covers 1.4 million Coloradans, on the state health insurance exchange, which would also make plans eligible for federal subsidies. Distinct from Medicare — essentially a federal program primarily covering older Americans — Medicaid currently has income and other restrictions Kennedy’s plan would abolish. The publicly run program doesn’t turn a profit, and  its costs are only about half that of private insurers, while its sheer size could offer benefits of scale for consumers.

Kennedy’s plan also includes measures to lower cost and increase access to care by encouraging prevention and instituting a program modeled on the Building Excellent Schools Today initiative to help rural communities build schools that Kennedy spearheaded when she was state treasurer.

In addition to ensuring every Coloradan can obtain insurance coverage, Kennedy’s approach will help make affordable care more attainable for everyone. Her plan includes a number of cost containment measures including prescription drug purchasing, better preventative care, reductions in hospital readmission, and better access in underserved areas.

Kennedy’s plan doesn’t come with a timeline.

“Cary’s proposal outlines a plan to help get Colorado to universal coverage,” her spokeswoman Serena Woods told Colorado Politics. “As governor, she will focus on doing whatever it takes to get it done.”

Kelly Maher, executive director of conservative advocacy organization Compass Colorado, tore into Kennedy’s plan, calling the proposal a “desperate plea for attention” that recalls last year’s failed statewide ballot measure that would have established a government-run health care system in Colorado.

While Kennedy’s proposal adds options for consumers rather than creating a single-payer plan, Maher argued that “as long as the individual mandate is in place,” it’s a step in that direction. “Forcing more and more people onto the government insurance of last resort will increase the cost of individual plans even faster, putting them out of the reach of more and more Coloradans. It becomes a vicious cycle where we end up with single-payer,” she told Colorado Politics.

The other four Democrats running for governor are U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former state Sen. Mike Johnston and businessman Noel Ginsburg. While none have announced stand-alone health care proposals as comprehensive as Kennedy’s, Polis supports a House version of the single-payer Medicare-for-all plan Sanders was scheduled to introduce, and the others have articulated general principles about the topic.

“I think health care is a right, not a privilege, and I support universal coverage and will fight to make it a reality for all Colorado families,” says Lynne, a former top Kaiser Permanente executive, on her campaign website. She says she’s worked on legislation “to expand access, increase transparency and make health care more affordable for all Colorado families.

Johnston says on his website he plans to fight the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce Medicaid coverage in Colorado, noting it’s cut the number of uninsured Coloradans in half. He also points to legislation he sponsored or co-sponsored in the Senate, including a bill to create the Alzheimer’s disease research center at the University of Colorado and a bill to create the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care.

“Access to affordable healthcare, distribution of costs so those in rural areas are not paying such high premiums, and access to preventive care are basic human rights for our citizens,” Ginsburg says on his campaign website. “We must also look at the actual costs of medical care and what can be done to reduce those statewide.” He vows to stand up to Washington and oppose “draconian cuts” being proposed for Medicaid. He also says the state must improve access to mental health care and reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

This post has been updated with comments from Compass Colorado Executive Director Kelly Maher.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.