Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 1, 20177min324

After months of legislative wrangling by Congressional Republicans to replace President Barack Obama’s health law, a bipartisan group of governors are trying something different:

Tinker with what’s already in place.

A plan released Thursday by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich largely works within the framework of the nation’s existing health law, the Affordable Care Act.

Over and over, health experts used the same words to describe the proposed changes: “Incremental” and “pragmatic.”

“It’s a Band-Aid on part of the Affordable Care Act,” said Joe Hanel, a spokesman for the Colorado Health Institute, which analyzes legislative proposals. “A good Band-Aid, but it’s still just fairly small in scope.”

Health care policy experts largely offered guarded applause for the proposals – calling them long-overdue for a law that has gone without tweaks since its passage in 2009, unlike other major pieces of legislation.

And it quickly garnered praise from the Colorado Association of Health Plans and the Colorado Hospital Association.

The announcement comes as insurers across the nation seek more steep price hikes for 2018 – including 27 percent on average in Colorado – despite signs of market stability earlier this year. The uncertainty over Obamacare’s future has been a key reason for those requested rate increases, insurance executives and regulators say.

And it comes amid threats by President Donald Trump to end funding to a key subsidy program, which could spike rates up another 20 to 25 percent.

Thursday’s plan would affect only a fraction of Americans, because it only targets the individual market. That includes people without employer or government-based health insurance – roughly 7 percent of the nation’s population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The proposal calls for fixing the “family glitch,” which made it more difficult for some families who can’t afford their employers’ insurance to get federal subsidies on an exchange. And it called for streamlining the waiver process for states seeking more flexibility in how they oversee their insurance markets. As of July, only one state had been granted such a waiver, a Kaiser Family Foundation review shows.

Several of the governors’ ideas are untested, Hanel said, including allowing people in counties with only one exchange-based insurer to buy into the Federal Employee Benefit Program. Slightly more than a dozen Colorado counties would likely be affected.

And other proposals are unfunded, such as a call to implement a nationwide $15 billion state stability fund modeled off a program in Alaska that has helped ease the price of monthly premiums.

Already, Colorado insurance officials appear to be mulling the creation of such a fund, as are several other states, experts said.

Few ideas were new. And some provisions – such as extra payments to insurers with higher-cost enrollees – were previously part of the Affordable Care Act, but have since ended.

“Many of us have argued for years those changes need to be made,” said Bill Lindsay, who owns a consulting firm and recently served as chairman of the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care. “It’s very positive in that if it can get movement, maybe it can break the logjam.”

Left ignored, however, were concerns by experts that the health law’s tax credits do not help enough in the middle class – creating a key barrier to affordability for many purchasing their own insurance on state and national exchanges. The program, which offsets the cost of monthly premiums, is available to people earning up to four times the federal poverty limit. Some, however, say that bar is too low.

The plan also made no specific mention of recommendations for tamping down the rising costs of medical services and prescription drugs, which continue to outpace inflation. And it included only vague aspirations for moving the nation’s health system away from a fee-for-service model, to one that bases prices on the quality and value of a patients’ care.

That came as little surprise to Lindsay.

“That is a much bigger, much more complicated deal,” he said. “And you’re not going to do that in three weeks.”

Still, allowing states greater freedom to experiment may offer clues on how to fix those deeper issues, experts said. And the governors’ suggestion to include the massive Medicare program in some states’ experiments could hasten that change, Adam Atherly, professor at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus said.

“Most of it’s pretty incremental,” Atherly said. “Although, again, if you read what they’re proposing, it’s a lot of setting the stage for future reform.”

Adam Fox, of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, was “very encouraged” by the proposals, but said some areas still needed work.

He hailed the governors’ insistence on funding certain subsidies that tamp down out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans, such as co-pays and deductibles. But he said the governors should have pushed for them to become permanent, rather than merely be funded through 2019.

“Two years is bare minimum to really help insurers feel like that funding is going to be there,” Fox said.

The payments have become a political bargaining chip, with President Donald Trump repeatedly threatening to end them, despite warnings from insurers that doing so would destabilize the individual market.

Still, Fox urged lawmakers in Washington D.C. to take the governors’ proposals seriously.

“It is a little bit of perhaps an uphill battle,” Fox said. “But I think realistically, this is what kind of policies our Congress should be looking at if they want to ensure coverage and affordability right now.”


Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 30, 20177min8629

Protesters at congressional offices have become old hat, but the disability rights group  Denver ADAPT rewrote the script with a 58-hour sit-in that ended Thursday night as police removed about 10 people, some in wheelchairs, from Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s downtown Denver office.

As Denver officers moved them out of the office lobby, protesters chanted, “Rather go to jail than to die without Medicaid,” according to a video posted on Facebook by protest leader Carrie Ann Lucas. The Denver-based National ADAPT reported on social media that Lucas’ wheelchair was damaged as she was removed.

In a video, officers ask for her help with the wheelchair to remove her from the small lobby at about 7 p.m. She told them it was a $35,000 chair but officers would have to find someone who could push it or operate it, because she would not help them.

“You can Google, you can call someone, I’m not resisting but I’m not cooperating,” she told officers before she was formally arrested. Lucas then resumed chanting, “Rather go to jail than to die without Medicaid.”

Within two hours, the video had nearly 10,000 views.

Lucas called the protest “Camp Gardner.”

Lucas is a lawyer and executive director of nonprofit Disabled Parents Rights.

Like other protests across the country ahead of the Senate vote on the American Health Care Act, the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, Denver ADAPT wants Gardner not to support the plan, and specifically oppose the proposed $834 billion in cuts to future Medicaid appropriations.

The disabled say they will be disproportionately affected by the cuts, especially by caps with fixed amounts per Medicaid recipient. People with expensive dire care have a lot to fear, said Josh Winkler, a 36-year-old quadriplegic from Aurora who participated in the protest on Tuesday but was not one of those removed by police Thursday night.

“We’ve been trying to meet with Sen. Gardner for months on all these health reforms they’re talking about, which is really just health care repeal,” Winkler told Colorado Politics.

Called a “die-in” by supporters, the protest started Tuesday morning.

Gardner’s office said ADAPT leaders have met in-person or by phone with his healthcare policy adviser  16 times — and once with Gardner personally — since January, and as recently as last week.

“The top priority throughout this protest has been allowing these individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights in a safe environment,” according to a statement released Thursday night. “In order to allow this, staff have slept in the office for two nights and assisted and aided these individuals with several matters to ensure they were comfortable and safe. At the request of the building, Denver police were forced to remove them earlier this evening due to several factors, including serious concerns for their health and safety.”

Denver police said a member of Gardner’s staff signed the complaint to have the protesters removed, but Gardner’s office said other tenants were demanding and end to the around-the-clock presence in the 25-story office tower at 17th and Lawrence streets.

Gardner is a member of the working group that drafted the Senate health care legislation. His spokesman told Colorado Politics’ Ernest Luning this week that the delayed vote announced by Majority Mitch McConnell Tuesday offers an opportunity to fine-tune the Obamacare replacement.

“The organization currently in the office has spoken to Senator Gardner several times and are in constant contact with his healthcare policy staff regarding requested reforms to our healthcare system,” Gardner’s office said in a statement released Wednesday, the second day of the protest. “Senator Gardner wants the constituents that are in his office to have quality healthcare. He has concerns that our current system is imploding and won’t be able to provide quality care if nothing is done to fix it.”

Protesters staged a different kind of die-in at Gardner’s Colorado Springs office.


Floyd TrujilloFloyd TrujilloJune 27, 20175min334

I’m proud to have served my country — but my country, or more precisely its health care system, has been falling short in recent years. The VA facilities have had well-known problems and 1.75 million veterans who rely on Medicaid for their health care are facing an uncertain future. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) clearly needs to be repealed, but a simultaneous replacement guaranteeing fair coverage must be enacted as well.


Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 25, 20177min287

From offensive mascots to the funding renewable energy programs, Colorado Politics had another busy week delivering the news to the most politically engaged audience in the state. (You’re one of them.)

We had a lot of stories to choose from, but here are the ones we think will bear worth watching as the respective discussions continue:


In this Sept. 18, 2016 file photo, a Washington Redskins helmet is seen on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Landover, Md. The Supreme Court on Monday, June 19, 2017, struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks in a ruling that is expected to help the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)

5. ‘The Slants’ won’t detour Colorado fight on offensive mascots

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a rock band that wants to trademark the name “The Slants” legally shields such mascot names as the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs. But it won’t stop the fight to undo such mascot names in Colorado.

Read the full story here.


Fracking Broomfield
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

4. No energy yields from governor’s request

Gov. John Hickenlooper tried to restart efforts to get $3.1 million from the state legislature through a special request to the Joint Budget Committee this week, but the bipartisan panel split along partisan lines, leaving the state without an office to promote renewable energy while assisting schools, the agriculture industry and developers reduce energy costs.

Read the full story here.


U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet says health care legislation released by Senate Repubicans is "really ... a tax cut for the wealthiest americans masquerading as a health bill" in a video released by his office on Thursday, June 22, 2017. (Photo via Bennet Senate office)
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet says health care legislation released by Senate Repubicans is “really … a tax cut for the wealthiest americans masquerading as a health bill” in a video released by his office on Thursday, June 22, 2017. (Photo via Bennet Senate office)

3. Bennet’s wants a better way on health care

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet told Senate Republicans to start over on the American Health Care Act, to repeal and replace portions of Obamacare. Several Colorado leaders had many concerns about the proposal. The senior senator from Colorado said the bill that passed the House last spring was the mirror opposite of a good plan, and he thinks the Senate version is just as bad or worse.

Read the full story here.


U.S. Rep. and current incumbent candidate Mike Coffman, R-Colo., left celebrates with his wife and candidate for Colorado attorney general Cynthia Coffman, right, at a GOP election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

2. Coffmans calling it quits

After 11 years of marriage, the state’s highest profile political couple — U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman — said they are seeking an end to their marriage, as Colorado Politics was the first to report last Monday.

Read the full story here.


Focus on the Family President Jim Daly jokes with Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, while introducing them at the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration Friday, June 23, 2017, during his visit to Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo Pool, The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

1. Vice president tells Focus he’ll defund Planned Parenthood

During a speech in Colorado Springs Friday, Vice President Mike Pence told Focus on the Family that the Trump administration will take money away from the women’s health care provider Planned Parenthood if it continues to provide abortions.

Read the full story here.