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Stapleton releases health care plans aimed at lowering costs, improving care

Author: Ernest Luning - September 19, 2018 - Updated: September 20, 2018

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Walker StapletonWalker Stapleton accepts the Republican nomination for governor on June 26 in Greenwood Village. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton unveiled health care proposals Tuesday designed to promote better mental health services, reduce spending on Medicaid and let Coloradans buy cheaper insurance plans.

Stapleton, a two-term state treasurer, said he plans to ask the federal government for a waiver under the Affordable Care Act to make different types of coverage available to state residents — including shorter-term plans and “catastrophic” insurance for healthier customers. Under the law, the new plans would still have to cover pre-existing conditions, allow young adults to stay on their parents’ coverage and offer options for maternity coverage.

The proposal comes a day after his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, released his “100-day roadmap” outlining the initial steps he says he’ll take to “expand coverage, improve quality and, most of all, reduce costs” if he takes office in January.

While Polis didn’t address moving the state toward a single-payer plan — something he’s supported for years and embraces as a long-term goal — Stapleton nonetheless sharply criticized his rival for it.

“Congressman Polis and I have drastically different approaches when it comes to tackling Colorado’s health care challenges. While Congressman Polis wants to implement government-run, one-size-fits-all health care, I want to create more affordable options for Coloradans,” Stapleton said in a statement. “Although our current system is not perfect, moving to single-payer will hurt Coloradans and destroy Colorado’s economy. Instead, we should fix what is wrong with Colorado health care and work together to lower costs and improve the quality of care.”

Noting that care for patients suffering from concurrent physical and mental health conditions accounts for 30 percent of health care spending, Stapleton says he wants to integrate mental health care better with preventative and primary care programs. Among his suggestions are encouraging providers to create one-stop shops for families and making use of long-distance medical practices.

Stapleton said he would continue with a program launched under Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, that uses federal dollars to help mental health providers reach patients.

He also tipped his hat to an Illinois program that saved that state $450 million over two years by tackling waste, fraud and abuse in the Medicaid system, which accounts for just under a third of the state’s $29 billion budget.

A spokesman for the Stapleton campaign said the Republican’s plans are “about doing more with what we have” and won’t increase state spending.

The Polis campaign derided what it termed Stapleton’s “vague platitudes” and attacked the Republican’s earlier proposals to roll back Medicaid coverage and do away with the state health insurance exchange.

Said Polis spokeswoman Mara Sheldon: “Walker Stapleton has stood with Donald Trump repeatedly in his crusade to take health care away from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans while driving up the cost for the rest of us. Walker Stapleton has campaigned on rolling back Medicaid expansion — which would threaten coverage for 1.4 million Coloradans on Medicaid — and eliminating our insurance exchange, which would throw our health care system into chaos and raise health costs. Now he is offering up vague platitudes that say virtually nothing. Colorado families can’t afford Trump’s yes-man Walker Stapleton.”

Both candidates say they’ll address the sky-high insurance premiums in Colorado’s mountain communities, among the highest in the nation. Polis says he’ll look into establishing a single, statewide insurance rating zone, a possibility Stapleton rejects. Instead, he says he’ll “evaluate how we could implement other policies to reduce premiums and cost of care.”

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.