Op-Ed: Colorado Needs a Public Option Now

The author talking about the public option at the Colorado Capitol in March 2020.
The author talking about the public option at the Colorado Capitol in March 2020. Courtesy Laura Packard
Four years ago, I walked into a doctor’s office as a healthy young woman with a nagging cough, and walked out as a cancer patient. My eventual diagnosis was Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I went through six months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation treatments to still be here. Today I’m in remission, thanks to the care I received.

This should be a happy ending. And I’m very grateful to be alive. However, I’ve still received stacks and stacks of bills since being declared in remission.

I was shocked when I received the first bill in 2019, after visiting my new oncologist at CU Anschutz for a simple checkup and blood work. This visit was billed at $7,554.21. My portion after insurance was $1,817.45.

I couldn’t understand this. Visiting my oncologist when I lived in Nevada and getting lab work done there never cost me more than a few hundred dollars at a time. So I asked for an itemized bill. One of the many absurd line items was $1,227.11 for a test for “respiratory viruses.”

At the time I was visiting the doctor, I had a cold. They wanted to test me for the flu, and I agreed because doctors know best, right? Never expecting to be billed over a thousand dollars for a flu test.

One in five Coloradans goes without needed care because they can’t afford it. Inflated bills like this only compound the problem. Personally, the high cost of care forces me to make difficult choices.

My oncologist in Aurora has left it up to me whether to get a PET scan as a checkup to see if my cancer has returned or not. I’m opting not, because with my high deductible policy, this will cost thousands of dollars out of pocket. How many of us can afford that?

As a single small-business owner, my health insurance plan is through the Affordable Care Act, on the state exchange. Like many other self-employed Coloradans, I have no plan B for insurance.

Coloradans shouldn’t be forced into these impossible choices because of the ridiculous level of costs pushed onto us from our insurance companies and our extremely profitable metro Denver health-system providers. We shouldn’t be forced to make decisions about what tests are right for us based on costs — we should be able to trust that we can afford necessary care when we need it.

The Colorado Health Insurance Option, a bill before the Colorado Legislature now, not only lowers our premiums, but expands pre-deductible services that will cover more necessary services.

I love my doctors, but I do not love my insurance choices or the profit-driven “non-profit” hospital system.

In fact, I can’t even see my doctors, since UCHealth refused to contract with Anthem or any insurance providers in the individual market in metro Denver this year. There were zero plans on the Colorado exchange this year for metro Denverites that included UCHealth doctors and facilities. Thousands of us have been left to find new medical care in the midst of a pandemic.

What good is a specialty hospital and providers to our community if they are out of reach to our community?

Opponents may say that cutting insurance costs will be unaffordable to Colorado and will result in harm to patients. But did you know that Colorado hospitals had the second-highest profits in the country, with over $2 billion in 2018 in the Denver area alone? And the jockeying between extremely profitable insurance companies and extremely profitable metro Denver health systems has already harmed patients like me.

In the wake of the coronavirus, many Coloradans took pay cuts, were let go from their jobs and lost their health insurance. For the people who had insurance through their employer, there is no viable option if they didn’t qualify for Medicaid. This pandemic has exposed the cracks in our health-care system and our need for more affordable insurance options in Colorado for everyone.

I didn’t choose to be sick. And I am thankful every day that I had insurance and could afford to get well. But we need to bring costs down and create more competition, so other people are not priced out of having the insurance and getting the care they need. And fights between insurers and hospital systems should never mean tens of thousands of Coloradans lose their doctors.

Passing the Colorado Option will keep insurers and hospital systems honest and stop their profit-seeking leaving Coloradans out in the cold. Please contact your legislators and make sure they hear our voices, and vote for lower insurance costs for us through the Colorado option.

Laura Packard is a small-business owner and Denver-based health-care advocate, and founder of Health Care Voices, a non-profit grassroots organization for adults with serious medical conditions; senior advisor to Be a Hero; and co-chair of Health Care Voter. Follow her at @lpackard or @laurapackardactivist.

Westword frequently publishes op-eds and essays on matters of interest to the Denver community; the opinions expressed in them are those of the authors, not Westword. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to [email protected], where you can also comment on this piece.
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