Colorado Senator Irene Aguilar, a Democrat from Denver, will be introducing legislation next month to address the fact that there are still 700,000 people in Colorado without health insurance. Although Colorado has made strides recently in areas like the expansion of Medicaid, we didn’t even come close to fulfilling former Governor Bill Ritter’s hopes for health insurance for all Colorado citizens by the end of 2010.
Aguilar’s bill would be a precursor to an actual health insurance/health care system change in Colorado. The details aren’t yet available, as the bill hasn’t officially be unveiled yet, but the idea is that it would create a commission to study “the implementation and funding of a program she calls the Colorado Health Care Cooperative.” Aguilar spent the last two years serving as the president of Health Care For All Colorado, an organization that is dedicated to the idea that all Colorado residents should have health insurance. The Colorado Health Care Cooperative that Aguilar envisions would set up integrated health care systems and medical homes, sort of like what Kaiser Permanente currently provides. But unlike Kaiser’s program, which is only available to people in the Denver/Boulder and Colorado Springs areas, Aguilar would like to see such systems available to everyone in Colorado.
If Aguilar’s bill passes, it would not be the first time that Colorado has implemented a commission to study health care reform. A few years ago, the Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission came up with an extensive list of recommendations for significantly reducing the state’s uninsured population. Unfortunately, the Commission finalized their report at the beginning of 2008, in the early days of the recession. Tax revenues have been in short supply ever since, making it difficult for the state to implement some of the Commission’s suggestions. One of the main recommendations that the Blue Ribbon Commission made was for health insurance to be mandatory in Colorado, much the way the PPACA will make health insurance mandatory on a national level. Of course, we’ve seen over the last year that implementing a mandate is far from easy, and would likely face legal hurdles on a state level just as it has on a federal level.
It’s too early to tell yet, since the bill hasn’t been revealed yet, but it looks like Aguilar’s commission would go in a different direction – still with the end goal of insuring Colorado’s uninsured population, but via integrated health insurance/medical home programs, rather than by mandating the purchase of health insurance or simply expanding existing public health insurance programs. It’s unknown what the time frame would be for the commission to complete their study, and whether implementation of their findings would coordinate well with the PPACA, which is expected to bring about some major changes in how the health insurance system works starting in 2014. But Colorado has already shown its willingness to make changes to health care legislation on a state level, even in the midst of the federal reform debate. So it’s possible that if Aguilar’s bill passes, the commission’s findings could be used to enhance health care delivery and health insurance availability in Colorado, even in conjunction with federal reform.