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The Pointless Politics of Price Transparency in Healthcare

The last several months—really the last year—has been quite a journey. We’ve come so far, and yet we are just getting started in our David v. Goliath (pun intended) political battle.

A year ago, I was told by political insiders that there was a one in a million shot that the Colorado legislature would pass a serious and comprehensive bill on price transparency in healthcare. We decided to try anyway. By January 1st of this year, I put the odds at 1 in 100—still very long odds. Today, I’d say we have a 10% chance of getting the legislature to give the citizens of Colorado as chance at a fair and functional healthcare market and to allow Colorado to set an example for the rest of the country. Our bill was introduced last week with bipartisan sponsorship and just about every legislator I have met with on board. Yes, we have a chance.

You might be asking yourself, why is there only a one in ten chance when everyone is on board? The answer is simple: powerful and wealthy lobbies, and politics.

Right now, I’m confident the bill will pass in the State House of Representatives. And if put up for a vote, it would pass in the Senate, too. I’ve been extremely impressed and pleased by how thoughtful the politicians on both sides have been. Nearly every one of them wants to do the right thing and they see the wisdom of price transparency in healthcare. Support could not be more bipartisan. Still the powerful healthcare lobby is fighting against our bill, which fully supports free enterprise. That truly makes no sense.

Thoughtful politicians on both sides are frightened, like I am, at what we are likely to wind up with if we don’t pass a comprehensive price transparency bill. California has come forward with its own response to our broken healthcare system. And it is not pretty. California introduced a bill that would allow the state to fully regulate healthcare prices. That’s right—government would set the price of all services, including prices paid by third-party payers (i.e., private insurance carriers). If this happens in California, the idea is likely to spread. That is something hospitals and insurance carriers should really be worried about.

Instead, the healthcare lobby is fighting against us. This is dangerous and short-sighted. To maintain the status quo and profits under the current paradigm, the industry is betting they can fend any change. They can’t. The system is dysfunctional and unstable, and that means it will tip one way or the other. The status quo is not really an option. But that’s what the big industry players are fighting for—and it’s what we are at risk of politics supporting.

What we need is to ensure this bill (HB18-1358) gets a fair shake. If it is sent to a solid committee in the Senate, it will pass. So, the strategy that will be encouraged by the lobbies will be to encourage the Senate leadership to send it to a committee preordained to kill it. This appears to be the current path the healthcare industry is counting on. What’s remarkable is that Republicans are the most supportive of this bill, yet Republicans control the Senate and that means Senate leadership. Thus, if the bill is sent to a so-called, “kill” committee, Republicans will be sending a clear message that the special interests matter more than saving America’s healthcare system. I don’t believe that’s what most Republicans want—at least not those I talk to.

I’d like to thank everyone that responded to yesterday’s request to contact your state legislators. Many did and copied me. I assume many more did and that I just didn’t see it. Thank you all. Please keep it up. And in particular, please let our Senate leadership team know that you want this bill to get a fair shake.

To ensure this gets done one way or another, we are pressing forward with the ballot measure. Signature collection is under way, and that means costs are mounting. Without continued funding, we won’t be able to get this done. And the ballot measure is also a big point of pressure with the legislature. Please consider contributing to this cause—the payback for you, your employer, and all Coloradans is immense.