Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper says health progress would be impacted by GOP legislation

Author: Peter Marcus - July 12, 2017 - Updated: July 12, 2017

Gov. John Hickenlooper stands outside the Federico F. Peña Southwest Family Health Center in Denver on Monday, July 10, 2017, to assail a GOP-led federal health reform effort. (Peter Marcus/Colorado Politics)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper continued his push against GOP-led federal health care reform this week, suggesting that progress in Colorado would be curtailed.

The governor used a recently released “State of Health Scorecard” to underscore his message. In 2013, the state set goals around reducing costs and improving the quality of health care. Hickenlooper said the state has completed most of the targets, in some cases going beyond the initial goals.

Examples given are that 93 percent of Coloradans have coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Access has also expanded in Colorado, with the state recruiting over 550 doctors and nurses, many in rural communities.

Hickenlooper said Medicaid in Colorado has saved the state more than $280 million since 2013 by reducing emergency room visits and increasing preventative care.

But federal health reform efforts in the U.S. House and Senate threaten to rollback that progress, Hickenlooper said. He added that Colorado would see a cut of about $1.5 billion per year from its Medicaid budget based on the Senate version.

“It’s worth looking at the Senate bill and what that would do to all of the progress that we have had. How much it would push us backwards,” Hickenlooper said Monday, standing outside the Federico F. Peña Southwest Family Health Center in Denver.

The governor acknowledged that the state still has more work to do on health reform, pointing out that opioid deaths have tripled over the past 15 years. And while Colorado is still the thinnest state in America, obesity rates are going up.

The Federico F. Peña Southwest Family Health Center serves patients who have benefited from coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act.

“All of us at Denver Health are very concerned about what a rollback of that Medicaid expansion would look like,” said  Robin Wittenstein, chief executive of Denver Health. “We certainly hope that the decision-makers in Washington will realize that leaving 22 million Americans without insurance is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Hickenlooper took issue with the notion that the Senate health reform bill was crafted in secret, without Democratic input.

Colorado Politics asked U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, one of 13 Republicans to work on the legislation, about the bill being crafted behind closed doors.

“This is the outcome of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in the most partisan of fashions. Not a single Republican vote was a part of it,” Gardner said. “I hope that can change. I hope Democrats will start working on a solution.”

“Two rights don’t make a wrong,” Hickenlooper responded. “The Affordable Care Act is a very different document that had it just been done in secret by one party.”

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.