Legislature strives to make health care affordable

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Colorado’s business climate is a little healthier after this year’s legislative session, but small-business advocates would like to schedule a checkup for next year.
Health care affordability has become a mantra for owners of small businesses throughout the state, after they saw double-digit increases in their insurance premiums this year. Working with organizations like the National Federation of Independent Business, they attempted to identify factors responsible for the enormous price increase and then worked to eliminate them.
The NFIB strongly supported Senate Bill 30 earlier this year. The bill would have allowed rate banding for business “groups of one,” lessening the risk — and with it, the premium — carried by other small-business owners. Insurance companies, if permitted to practice rate banding, could have charged sole proprietors premiums based on their actual risk. The practice is banned in Colorado but permitted in other states. Because sole proprietors do not have to guarantee the health of their employees or their employees’ dependents, NFIB saw no ethical dilemma in permitting the practice.
Jackson said SB 30 failed because sponsors were “very close to some of the consumer groups that were opposed to it.” “But small-business owners are consumers when it comes to health care. We didn’t carry the day on that argument,” he said.
Another failed bill was SB 153, which sought to remove mandates from employer-sponsored insurance plans. “We were trying to take (out) some of those mandates that are designer mandates,” said Jackson, stressing the importance of individual responsibility in preventing medical disease through lifestyle choices.
Another failed bill, House Bill 1003, would have given tax credits for medical savings accounts. Despite these failures, Jackson said the 2001 legislative session was a moderate success. Senate Bill 224 passed, removing “network adequacy” requirements that health insurance providers frequently were unable to achieve. Such requirements prompted some insurers to pull out of rural markets altogether leaving health care consumers uninsured or forced to endure long commutes for routine health care. The bill also established a study that legislators will undertake between now and next year’s session, to look at the affordability, accessibility and portability of health care, especially in rural areas.
House Bill 1396 also passed, which allows insurance carriers to discontinue obsolete plans as long as they provide alternatives for those remaining on the plans.
The bills that passed, Jackson said, “work toward our overall goal of affordable health care and for more small-business owners to be able to cover themselves and their employees.”
Jamie Scholl, president of the Colorado State Association of Health Underwriters, agreed with Jackson’s assessment. “While we consider these reforms insufficient as even interim steps, we’re pleased that the Legislature at least is focusing on this critical problem.” He added, “No one should be under the misconception that we’ve made much headway in terms of actual legislation this session. However, we will continue to work toward the kind of comprehensive reform that is needed.”
Jackson vowed to reintroduce the rate banding, mandate-choice legislation, and tax credit bill next year.