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Colorado governor takes health care plan to Congress

John Hickenlooper scolds, asks for federal help

Governor takes health care plan to Congress

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - On Thursday, a week after introducing a bipartisan plan for health care insurance reform, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper presented the plan to Congress.

Hickenlooper spoke before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, accompanied by four of the seven governors who endorse the plan.

Committee members did not immediately respond to Hickenlooper's remarks.

Hickenlooper, while scolding the federal government for not doing more to control rising insurance premium rates, also asked for it to work more closely with states and keep costs under control.

"Without your help, it's like climbing one of Colorado's famous 14,000-foot mountains in winter without a parka," he said.  "We need immediate federal action.  Work with us, not against us."

At issue is the individual insurance market, which generally serves people who can't get insurance on the job or through Medicaid -- meaning much higher premiums and few choices.

An estimated 400,000 Coloradans are insured by that market.

Experts say the situation leaves the market covering mostly unhealthy people who end up paying higher premiums, and forces providers out of business due to worries about unexpected or expensive claims -- leaving fewer insurers who charge still higher premiums.

"A 60-year-old in rural Craig, Colorado, making less than $50,000, will pay over $12,000 a year on premiums alone.  That's around 25 percent of income.  That is simply unacceptable."

The plan also asks the federal government to contribute to a "cost sharing" fund through 2019 that would further control costs until Congress can agree on more permanent reforms.

Congress faces a deadline at the end of September to decide whether to continue its support of the Affordable Care Act, a subject that led to heated debate earlier this summer.

But will Congress take the plan seriously and approve it?

"I'm not that confident," said Darla Kramer of Colorado Springs, a Medicare patient. "A lot of people say a lot of things.  I don't want to hear it.  I want to see action.  I want to see the outcome and the result.  Hopefully, it'll benefit everybody."

Hickenlooper's presentation came on the same day that state regulators approved an average 27 percent increase next year on individual market premiums.

Catherine Bader, director of the SET Family Medical Clinic in Colorado Springs, which provides basic care for uninsured and underinsured patients, expects the increase to attract more than the 2,000 patients served annually.

"It may mean a longer wait to get in," she said.  "But we have generous donors, grants and the support of Centura Health to help us serve as many people as we need to."


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