Hickenlooper says GOP-led health care overhaul has ‘gone haywire,’ urges bipartisan approach

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

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper considers a question during an interview with The Colorado Statesman on Dec. 12, 2015, at the state Capitol in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper considers a question during an interview with The Colorado Statesman on Dec. 12, 2015, at the state Capitol in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Saturday panned legislation unveiled last week to replace the Affordable Care Act, lamenting that the Republican proposal would strip millions of their health care coverage.

“Part of what’s crazy about this is the process has gone haywire,” the Colorado Democrat said in an appearance on the Fox News show America’s News HQ. “Before, Republicans all attacked the Democrats when this process was going through in 2010, 2009, and now the Republicans are just as eager, they want to push it through themselves.”

Instead of whichever party is in charge going it alone, he suggested bringing together a bipartisan group of governors and lawmakers to figure out how to fix things.

“Why can’t we have some Democratic governors, some Republican governors, sit down with some legislators from Congress and see if we really can craft something without rolling back, taking health care away from millions of people,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper said the Trump administration’s rhetoric about returning health care coverage and spending authority to the states sounds good but wasn’t what the legislation accomplishes.

“I think that’s a nice idea in concept,” he said. “But it doesn’t look like we’re getting that much more flexibility. What they’re doing is shifting all the cost back to the states.”

Hickenlooper nodded when the show’s host asked if he agreed with a letter penned last week by Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and three of his Republican colleagues expressing concern that “any poorly implemented or poorly timed change in the current funding structure in Medicaid could result in a reduction in access to life-saving health care services.”

Noting that 400,000 Colorado residents have gained health care coverage under the Medicaid expansion, Hickenlooper looked pained at the prospect of losing federal funding to help pay for their care.

“We’ve had estimates of up to $1 billion that it could cost us — but it’s big numbers,” he said. “I think if we could work together on it — we don’t want to roll people off the coverage. What we’d like to do is maybe we adjust what’s covered, maybe there’s a process we could find savings by scaling certain things up, looking at pharmaceuticals. Let’s do that instead of saying we’re going to take literally hundreds of thousands of people off of health care.”

There’s a balance, Hickenlooper said, between controlling costs and maintaining coverage for people who can’t afford health insurance.

“I think that’s the trick,” he said. “We don’t want the elderly, the working poor, rural America — I mean, this health care plan would hurt all of them. There’s got to be a way to look at controlling costs. In Colorado, you know, we’ve done in the last couple years since we expanded Medicaid, this past year we’ve had declining per-capita costs for (Medicaid) patients. We’ve never done that before, but we’re actually getting our arms around the cost curve. Again, maintaining quality but figuring out how we can do it for less money.”

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.