Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ritter Announces Health Care Plan

Gov. Bill Ritter announced his plan to make improvements in Colorado's health care system Wednesday, proposing a "Building Blocks to Better Health Care" program that would allow 55,000 more children to be covered by health insurance within three years.

“Our health-care system is fundamentally broken, and the flaws touch every person and every business in Colorado,” Ritter said. “Costs are skyrocketing. The availability of quality care is limited. Too many people lack insurance, and our public and private health networks are too complicated for most people to navigate."

The governor is asking the General Assembly to spend $25 million in fiscal year 2008-2009 to put the plan in motion. In addition to increasing the number of kids in the state covered by the Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) and Medicaid programs, the money would be used to create a new "Center for Improving Value in Health Care," build "greater efficiencies in public and private health care," and improve "transparency" in an effort to help health care consumers.

The expansion of children's health coverage would be achieved mainly by increasing the family income ceiling that limits eligibility for the CHP+ program. Ritter said that Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, and Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, will introduce legislation raising that ceiling from 205% of the federal government's designated poverty level for a family of four, as of March 1, to 225%. That would mean that a family of four earning no more than $48,000 could qualify for CHP+ coverage.

The plan also calls for greater efforts to make the public aware of CHP+ and Medicaid programs, simplifying the enrollment process for CHP+ and Medicaid, and increasing reimbursement rates to physicians and dentists who provide care to children under the Medicaid program.

The proposed Center for Increasing Value in Health Care (CIVHC) would be an inter-agency and private sector joint effort to "develop long-term strategies for ensuring a better value for the $30 billion spent on health care in Colorado every year."

To improve efficiencies in the delivery of health care services, Ritter's proposal calls for the standardization of health insurance carrier ID cards and a requirement that all such cards include a magnetic strip that would facilitate electronic exchange of data.

Ritter said that Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, and Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, had agreed to sponsor a bill implementing this aspect of his plan.

The plan also calls for increased investments in health information technology and disease management programs.

Ritter's program also includes measures aimed at increasing consumer knowledge of insurer choices and insurance broker relationships with insurance companies. The plan would establish a web-based "Report Card on Health Insurance Companies" to include relevant information about health insurers and require insurance brokers to disclose their source and extent of compensation.

In addition, Ritter will ask the legislature to fully fund the Colorado Immunization Information System, increase funding for people with developmental disabilities by more than $8 million, increase funding for community mental health services by $3 million, and provide support to families with children suffering from birth defects by funding a "Colorado Responds to Children With Special Needs" initiative.

The program also includes a request to fund dental care for low-income elderly Coloradans and asks the legislature to support a bill that would grant consumers a legal remedy in the event that a health insurer denies a claim for coverage.

Gagliardi, who is a nurse, praised the governor's proposal.

"I am confident that today, we have embarked on a path towards access to affordable, quality health care for Coloradans," Gagliardi said. "The Building Blocks for Health Care Reform represent meaningful and significant progress. We will be covering 55,000 children over the next 3 years-enough children to fill 1,000 school buses."

Primavera, too, said that she believes Ritter's requests to the General Assembly make sense in terms of improving health care coverage to needy families.

"Starting with kids is a smart investment," Primavera said. "By covering 55,000 children over the next three years, we will make a big dent in reducing the ranks of the uninsured."

Mitchell indicated that GOP legislators would be likely to support at least the efficiency aspects of the proposal.

“Too much of our health care dollar goes to administration and paper work,” Sen. Mitchell said. “Standardizing health plan ID cards should make things faster and easier for patients and doctors and help bring down costs.”

Ritter emphasized that any progress on health care reform in Colorado must take account of fiscal limitations.

“We must find solutions that are uniquely Colorado, solutions that are ambitious and realistic, solutions we can afford,” the governor said.