Colorado Governor Hickenlooper stated last week that he believes healthcare reform can be successful even without a mandate. We’ll know later this month what the Supreme Court decides as far as the constitutionality of the individual mandate and the fate of the rest of the ACA if they determine that the individual mandate cannot be included in the law. But Governor Hickenlooper is obviously committed to some form of healthcare reform in Colorado, regardless of how things shake out on a national level.
Hickenlooper addressed an international conference of wellness experts yesterday in Aspen, and said that although he has concerns about the downsides of becoming a “nanny state”, he believes we need to take some significant measures in order to improve the overall health of the Colorado population – if for no other reason than the significant economic impact of poor health and obesity. Even though Colorado is still the leanest state in the US, the percentage of obese adults has been steadily increasing over the past two decades, and it climbed above 20% last year for the first time.
Although Hickenlooper didn’t discuss any Colorado-specific plans with regards to taxing or banning super-sized sodas or other junk food, he mentioned Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives in NY to ban sodas larger than 16 ounces in places like restaurants and movie theaters. He spoke of his general opposition to such laws (presumably because they can be seen as the state meddling too much in personal affairs), but noted that “… if we don’t begin looking at certain things like that, the costs are going to be enormous.”
The things that Governor Hickenlooper did address specifically were on the positive end of the spectrum – more carrots, fewer sticks. Rather than banning or taxing bad habits and/or junk foods, the governor is advocating programs to increase physical education and recess time in schools, encourage more bike commuting, and improve access to better quality food options and medical homes for low income families. He noted that while Colorado is the leanest (and one of the healthiest) state in the US, it’s not because of any state programs. Rather, Colorado’s amazing outdoors tends to attract young, healthy, fitness-oriented people. Governor Hickenlooper considers us lucky to be in that position, but believes that we need to take it a step further and implement programs to address obesity and wellness in general.
In a similar vein with his talk last week regarding the ability of healthcare reform to succeed even if the individual mandate is struck down, Hickenlooper noted that regardless of the fate of the ACA, Colorado has to move forward with healthcare reform on a state level in order for the state to be economically viable in the long term. He also mentioned the fact that HHS has given him a green light to work out state-specific programs to address healthcare costs and expand coverage to more people. HHS Secretary Sebelius told Hickenlooper that HHS will work with the state to grant whatever waivers are necessary if Colorado can come up with its own unique ways to reduce costs while insuring the whole population.
Colorado has been a leader in healthcare reform for some time. There was the Blue Ribbon Commission that provided numerous recommendations four years ago – many of which are also in the ACA. Then Colorado banned gender-specific health insurance pricing and began requiring maternity coverage on all new and renewing individual health insurance policies. The state got out of the gates quickly when it came to getting the ball rolling on the creation of a health benefits exchange, and we’ve also received significant federal grants thanks to the state’s efforts to expand public health insurance to more people.
Even if the individual mandate (or even the entire ACA) is struck down by the Supreme Court, I would say that Colorado will continue working to find ways to insure more residents, improve the health of the state’s population, and lower healthcare costs.