EDITORIAL: Colorado can change the health care conundrum — do it

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Regardless of your political stripes in Colorado, everyone can agree that the Affordable Care Act has not made health care affordable.

Obamacare was a righteous cause that didn’t work, for a variety of logical reasons.

Colorado has a rare and critical opportunity to come up with something better. Several Democrats in the state House and Senate, and Gov. Jared Polis, are poised to dive deep into finding a real solution to unaffordable health care in Colorado.

We staunchly support the effort. State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle can easily agree that the American health care reform effort is complete is in chaos. We agree with Colorado reform proponents that given the situation in Washington, made hopeless by Republican leaders and President Donald Trump, the best chances for success are here at home.

How American health care works — or more accurately, doesn’t work — is vastly complicated and exasperating. It’s a hodgepodge of philosophies, regulations, laws and endless contradictions. Obamacare was an attempt to reduce the individual costs of health care and force insurance companies to deliver value and fairness.

It was doomed from the beginning because it tried to create a better system for consumers without structurally changing it. Without regulating costs and controlling premium hikes, suppliers endlessly hiked prices and insurance companies demanded higher premiums. While Obamacare infinitely improved how consumers were treated by insurance companies, fewer people in the vast middle class can even afford it any more. Without price controls and regulations, the biggest gaffe was not offering a “public option” which would have pushed the market toward affordability, instead of creating the wheels-falling-off system Obamacare has inadvertently created.

Make no mistake, repealing Obamacare would be a disaster. Even as it stands, it’s far better than what we would be suffering under in Colorado and across the nation had Republicans been able to return us to a past system irrevocably broken and corrupted.

Here’s what Congress and the Colorado General Assembly must address to come even close to solving the problem:

There are millions of Americans who pay nothing or relatively little for health care each year. The country spends about $600 billion a year just on Medicaid. On top of that, hospitals provide about $40 billion a year in “uncompensated” care to sick people who don’t have insurance or Medicaid. And on top of that, hospitals report that they “lose” another $60 billion a year or so from Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates that are well under actual costs.

It means that we continue to play a shell game on how to pay for about $700 billion in health care for people who can’t or don’t pay for some or all of their care.

While many Colorado Republicans say they don’t want to offer free care through Medicaid to so many poor people any more, it’s not that simple. Trump officials and many Colorado GOP lawmakers sum up how ludicrous the issue has become by insisting that many Medicaid recipients can just get jobs with health benefits and get off the public dole.

Besides being cruel, the notion is naive. Colorado’s uninsured and poor have long gotten some health care and will in the future. A federal law demands that hospitals treat emergency patients even if they can’t pay.

We either pay the way we are, or we pay the way other modern nations do through shared and controlled costs.

Over the next few months, state lawmakers are exploring a variety of options that make sense in the inevitable move to universal healthcare. One option is to allow the public to buy health insurance available to state employees at the same rate. Another idea would be to create other “public options” for Colorado residents and possibly those from other states.

These proposed “public options” are the first and critical step toward pushing back against a health care market that is out of control.

These ideas are not universal healthcare, but they’re an important step toward affordable care, even if they don’t lead there right away.

Our final advice to state lawmakers: Hurry.