As I visit communities across our state, Coloradans consistently tell me that one of their top concerns is the rising cost of health care. Families and small businesses are being crushed by skyrocketing costs, and - if they have health insurance at all - they're struggling to keep up with co-pays and deductibles. Too many Coloradans are skipping doctors' appointments altogether because they can't afford the payments. Others are frustrated by health insurance plans that cut back on coverage or drop people for getting sick.
It isn't just patients who are experiencing the problems. Doctors and nurses across the state tell me that crowded emergency rooms, government over-regulation, wage issues, and a shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care workers all are contributing to the problems within our health care system.
The problems Coloradans experience are felt by all Americans, and they are the reason I was so determined to pass meaningful health insurance reform. I believe all Americans deserve the security and stability of affordable, quality health care, and I’m committed to successfully implementing the health reform law, which we approved in March 2010 - the Affordable Care Act. My top priority is to fix the economy and create more jobs – and health insurance reform has to be part of the solution. I believe this law, if implemented correctly, can help us strengthen our economy for the long term.
More on the Affordable Care Act
The Affordable Care Act is meant to put Coloradans in charge of their own health care, provide a sense of stability and security, and ensure individuals can choose their coverage plan and their health care provider. The goal is to finally start reducing the ever-increasing costs for consumers, small businesses and the government by taking critical steps to address the runaway growth in health care costs, which are the biggest driver of our spiraling federal deficit. The law's provisions also will make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and give Americans the freedom to change jobs or start a business without the fear of losing coverage for their family. No Coloradan should ever again be forced to declare bankruptcy because they can’t pay for their necessary medical expenses. When the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, over 826,000 Coloradans without coverage will be able to purchase health insurance through a marketplace called Connect for Health Colorado, which is currently under development (www.getcoveredco.org), and more than half of them will qualify for new tax credits to help make policies more affordable.
Over the course of the health insurance reform debate, I carefully considered each proposal that came before the Senate. After hearing from thousands of Coloradans, on both sides of this issue, and closely reviewing the Affordable Care Act, I came to the conclusion that this new law will improve our health care system. And it’s already making a difference for Coloradans. For example, over 90,000 small businesses in Colorado are now eligible for a tax credit to help them offer health coverage to their workers. The Affordable Care Act is also dramatically lowering prescription drug costs for tens of thousands of Colorado seniors who had annually faced a gap in coverage for their Medicare Part D benefits, known as the “doughnut hole.” Additionally, starting in 2011, the new law put a renewed focus on wellness and chronic disease prevention by ensuring that Americans will no longer pay out-of-pocket costs for critical preventive services.
The new health insurance reform law is designed to build on what works and fix what does not. I am the first to admit that the legislation we passed here in Congress is not perfect - no bill is ever perfect. But in taking ideas from both political parties, it is a solid foundation on which we can build in the future.
Health reform also needs to work in tandem with ongoing initiatives and issue areas that continue to be a priority for me and for Colorado.
Rural Health Care
One serious barrier to receiving health care is geography. Many rural Coloradans live hours away from the nearest doctor or hospital. Rural communities often struggle to recruit and retain quality health care providers, and they have a high number of citizens who don't have insurance or can't afford health care. In fact, of Colorado's 47 rural and frontier counties are designated by the federal government as "health professional shortage areas" and all but ten are designated as "medically underserved areas." I'm fighting to ensure rural communities in Colorado, and across the country, have access to quality, affordable health care. As part of this effort, I introduced the Rural Physician Pipeline Act, which I successfully pushed to be included as an amendment to the Affordable Care Act. Its provisions are designed to expand training programs across the country with the goal of increasing the number of doctors practicing in rural America. We also need to work toward equity in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates for rural providers, assisting with school loan-repayment burdens, and strengthening our rural health care safety net.
While I was pleased to see that the Affordable Care Act will help address many rural health care challenges, we still have much work to do. Moving forward, I will continue to ensure that rural Colorado has a strong voice in Washington, D.C.
Health Care for Seniors
The Affordable Care Act takes great strides to strengthen and reform Medicare, the government's health insurance system for seniors and people with disabilities. In part, the law will extend the solvency of the program by more than a decade and work to close the Medicare Part D "coverage gap" – or “doughnut hole” – to lower prescription drug costs.
While health reform will be beneficial to the health and security of our nation's seniors, much remains to be addressed. I will continue to fight to eliminate barriers that prevent patients from getting care and increasing access to affordable long-term care services and supports.
Supporting Life-Saving Biomedical Research
I have long been a strong supporter of the National Institutes of Health and research institutions in Colorado and throughout the nation. Medical research into treatments and cures for diseases and conditions are the keys to not only improving and saving lives, but reducing health care costs for all Americans. And as your U.S. Senator, I will continue working to strengthen our nation's research community, which in turn will help Colorado's economy.
Now that implementation of the Affordable Care Act is underway, I know Coloradans will continue to have questions about this new law and how it will affect them, and it is important to me that my office continues to be a helpful resource. I hope you will find the links below and the other resources available on this site helpful as I work to ensure we have an open and honest debate about federal policies facing Congress.
Comprehensive Web Guide for Health Insurance Reform & Consumer Information
Information on Development of the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange
Immediate Benefits & Implementation Timeline
Text of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act & the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act
- Full Text of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148)
- Full Text of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (P.L. 111-152)
Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line to serve our country. When they return home, it is our duty to make sure our nation's veterans have access to the health care services they need and deserve. However, too many veterans on the Western Slope have to travel more than 100 miles to Denver or Salt Lake City for common surgeries. As part of my continued fight for veterans across the state, I called on Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to honor his commitment to bring back these common surgery capabilities to the Grand Junction VA hospital as soon as possible. Veterans residing in rural communities should not be burdened with excessive travel in order to access quality health care when a local hospital can meet their needs. It is crucial the VA fulfills its promise and brings the services our veterans need back to the Western Slope.
Read the op-ed I authored in the Denver Post addressing the growing problem of obesity and its impacts on our health, health care spending and quality of military recruits.
As Congress and President Obama continue to discuss the path forward on addressing our long-term debt and deficit, it is essential that the well-being of the Medicare program be a focus of that conversation. In order to protect Medicare, we need to address the unsustainable growth in spending for the program. I believe one of the biggest tools we have at our disposal to bring these costs down were provided by the health reform bill passed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act, which takes important steps to transform our health care delivery system into one that rewards high quality at low cost. That is why I joined 11 of my Senate colleagues in sending a letter to President Obama on September 16, 2011, urging him to prioritize these delivery system reforms in deficit reduction efforts, in order to preserve benefits for Colorado seniors.
On July 22, 2011, I joined 28 senators in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to swiftly adopt new recommendations called for in the 2010 health reform law that would allow women to access more life-saving preventive health services and screenings at no additional cost. As a result, beginning on August 1, 2012, more than 868,000 Colorado women will now have access to these important preventive services without any cost-sharing. I believe that removing cost barriers for women's preventive health care will save lives and ultimately lead to lower overall health care costs when health problems are caught and treated early.
Our service members and their families sacrifice everything for our security, and they deserve the best care we can provide for them. With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) affecting so many of our returning service members, it is especially important that we address these hidden wounds of war. That is why I recently introduced two amendments to the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act to improve the quality and accessibility of behavioral health care available to these heroes. One amendment would extend suicide-prevention services to active-duty troops and veterans in Colorado and across the country. The second would expand a behavioral health pilot program, which has been successful at Fort Carson, making it available to at least three other Army installations. When it comes to behavioral health care, the military has made significant progress. But the fact remains that too many of our troops return from service suffering from PTSD or TBI and struggle to get access to the care they need. I will always fight to ensure service members and veterans get the care they were promised and that they have earned.