By JOHN HICKENLOOPER
Health care is a right, not a privilege. With Colorado facing an economic and public health crisis unlike anything in our history, access to affordable health care is more important than ever.
So let’s not bury the lede: if you’re uninsured or recently unemployed, you can sign up for health insurance until the end of today (April 30) at www.ConnectForHealthCO.com. You may even qualify for a no- or low-cost plan.
The Affordable Care Act has been a critical bulwark against the pandemic of COVID-19. When I was governor, we used the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to an additional 400,000 Coloradans and cut our state’s uninsured rate by nearly two-thirds. Our Medicaid expansion helped save at least eight rural Colorado hospitals from closure and has been called “a coronavirus lifeline.”
Hospitals can even sign COVID-19 patients up for Medicaid on the spot if they think they’re eligible.
Medicaid expansion was bipartisan in Colorado — we brought lawmakers together from both sides of the aisle. When we announced our plans to expand Medicaid, we said it was a step toward making Colorado the “healthiest state in America.”
In Washington, Republicans are still trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which threatens to take health care away from everyone who gained coverage through that law. Sen. Cory Gardner has repeatedly voted to repeal the ACA, and President Trump refuses to reopen ACA enrollment in states that don’t have their own exchanges.
Gardner and Trump even support a lawsuit currently before the U.S. Supreme Court that could overturn the ACA, ending Medicaid expansion and jeopardizing protections for people with preexisting conditions — that’s nearly 2.4 million Coloradans.
When people need health care the most, this lawsuit could pull the rug out from under the over half a million Coloradans who have health insurance because of the ACA.
Expanding access to care isn’t the only way that the Affordable Care Act has been essential to Colorado’s coronavirus response. The ACA also kickstarted innovation in telemedicine, which is becoming more important than ever during this pandemic. Instead of going into a clinic and risking infection, people can talk to their doctor via video chat because of the groundwork laid by the ACA’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.
Many of us have experienced increased stress and anxiety related to the virus, job loss, and uncertainty. Health care and other frontline workers are facing trauma on a regular basis. Thanks to the ACA, mental health care is an essential benefit — insurance companies are required to cover counseling and other mental health needs.
When a COVID-19 vaccine eventually becomes available, you’ll likely be able to get it for free because of the ACA. The CDC’s Prevention and Public Health Fund has been key to fighting the virus — it’s funded by the ACA, too.
More than 10,000 Coloradans have already signed up for insurance plans since Gov. Jared Polis reopened the Connect for Health marketplace last month, joining the half-million Coloradans who already rely on the ACA for coverage. Protecting and expanding access to care for them — and everyone else who relies on the ACA’s many benefits — will be one of my top priorities in the U.S. Senate.
Washington needs to stop playing games with our health care and act a little more like Colorado.
John Hickenlooper is a geologist, brewer, small business owner, former mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado. He is running for U.S. Senate.