By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Health care policy expert Len Nichols Tuesday told local business leaders that Colorado is better poised to lead the reform movement than any other state — but that it can’t do it without the support of the business community.
Citing work already done and in progress by Colorado’s Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform — otherwise known as the 208 Commission — Nichols said he has more faith in Colorado than any other state.
“I have the privilege of talking about health care all over the country, I get to see a lot of states up close, and I would say É you have more potential to do this right than any single place on Earth,” said Nichols, a nationally renowned health policy expert.
Speaking during a luncheon hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Nichols pointed to similarities between federal health reform legislation and recommendations made last year by the 208 Commission. Those recommendations included establishing a new insurance marketplace; enacting an individual coverage mandate; and expanding Medicaid eligibility, to name a few.
Released Tuesday was a study by Nichols and state economic expert Henry Sobanet, which documents the economic impact of maintaining Colorado’s current health care system. The report states that much of the burden will fall on small business owners, citing the high cost and inaccessibility of health insurance. Without reform, employer health care contributions will continue to rise, states the report.
Health insurance premiums in Colorado last year represented nearly 22 percent of median family income. That expense translates to less business for the state, as families spend their income on health care instead of consumption.
The average deductible in Colorado last year was more than $1,600, adding to the financial burden for most families. To make matters worse, premiums are expected to grow 10 percent per year, according to the Colorado Business Group on Health.
The state’s budget is also being crushed by health care issues. Colorado spends almost $1.6 billion on Medicaid — roughly 21 percent of the $7.5 billion in the general fund.
At a time when the state is facing a two-year deficit of more than $2 billion, reform proponents say now is the time for reform more than ever.
But Nichols says the business community is going to need to pay to play, which should include taxes. Estimates place the public cost to financing reform in Colorado anywhere between $980 million and $2.7 billion per year.
While studies indicate that new taxes result in less economic output, fewer jobs and slower job growth, Nichols says tax-financed spending can exceed the costs. By lowering costs to households and expanding coverage, the state would see additional spending and more jobs, he said.
Reform could inject a total of $2.45 billion into the Colorado economy in 2010, according to the report. Every $1 in new health care spending in Colorado would generate $2.44 in new economic output.
“You’re going to have to tax yourselves. I read the memo, I know you’re going to have a hard time with that,” he said to a room full of business leaders known for opposing new taxes.
But the distinguished health policy expert said business leaders will simply need to overcome concerns over taxes, because paying for health reform will lead to fiscal benefits down the road.
“What you’ve got to do now is go that last mile,” said Nichols.
“The reason that we’re talking about this in the country is that we can’t afford the system now,” he continued.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters