WASHINGTON — Gov. John Hickenlooper presented Congress with his plan for his healthcare reform on Thursday and the reception was warm — though far from committal.
The Colorado Democrat was one of five governors to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Hickenlooper frequently used his time to tout a bipartisan proposal he unveiled a few weeks ago with Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.
“We can do a lot at the state level, especially with congressional support,” Hickenlooper said.
Much of the Hickenlooper-Kasich plan focuses on a small, but troubled, piece of the U.S. healthcare system: the individual insurance market.
Consumers who use the individual market typically can’t get their insurance through work or Medicaid, and many users — especially in rural areas — face high premiums and few options.
“For the 400,000 Coloradans in the individual marketplace, many continue to struggle,” Hickenlooper said. “A 60-year-old in rural Craig, Colorado making less than $50,000 will pay over $12,000 a year on premiums alone.”
To address this problem, Hickenlooper and Kasich offered several potential solutions; two in particular drew the notice of lawmakers during the three-hour hearing.
One calls on Congress to help pay for the creation of state-based re-insurance programs.
The idea is to establish backstops for health insurance companies worried about too many unexpected and expensive claims, a fear that can raise rates across the individual market.
“Many of these pools end up being dominated by the least healthy individuals, especially people with chronic diseases,” Hickenlooper said. “That raises everybody’s premium.”
The suggestion caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, who raised it with Hickenlooper.
But lawmakers and congressional aides said this kind of program is unlikely to see federal action in the near-term because of its cost and the challenge of getting a major healthcare bill through Congress, especially in the aftermath of this summer’s fight over the Affordable Care Act.
Following the hearing, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman from Tennessee, told reporters the current goal was a “small, limited, bipartisan package” to help stabilize the individual insurance market.
He and other lawmakers are on a clock: insurance companies have until Sept. 27 to decide whether it makes sense for them to participate in the ACA exchanges.
The second Hickenlooper-Kasich idea debated Thursday was the concept of allowing residents with few choices on the individual market to access healthcare plans used by federal employees.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who once worked for Hickenlooper, took the theory one step further and said he was open to doing something similar on a state level.
“Another possibility here might be for people to buy into state employee plans as well,” Bennet said.
Congress listens but makes no promises on John Hickenlooper healthcare plan – The Denver Post