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'It Can't Be Done': Hickenlooper On Health Care Without Federal Help

By Shaun Boyd

WASHINGTON, DC (CBS4)- Gov. John Hickenlooper and four other governors issued a warning to a U.S. Senate Committee in charge of health policy. They say the health insurance exchanges that cover 18 million people in the country are in danger of collapsing.

"Many people are angry and they have a right to be," Hickenlooper said during three hours of testimony.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

The governors, two Republicans who oppose The Affordable Care Act and three Democrats who support it, signed on to a plan crafted by Hickenlooper and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

They say it's a short-term fix for the individual market. Some 400,000 Coloradans not covered by work, Medicaid or Medicare, get their insurance on the market. Many of them are low income and high cost, in-part because insurers can no longer turn anyone away.

(credit: CBS)

"We have one of our carriers that has three different patients that cost more than $5 million a year," Hickenlooper said, "That raises everybody's premiums."

The governors say threats by the president and some Republican lawmakers to pull subsidies that help insurers cover those patients are creating instability, causing premiums in Colorado to increase nearly 30 percent next year and insurers to pull out. Fourteen counties in the state have one insurer left.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

"It's time for the federal government to work with us not against us," Hickenlooper told lawmakers.

He says states like Colorado are doing what they can to improve access and affordability but he says without federal help it's like trying to climb a fourteener in the winter without proper gear.

senior woman and doctor with clipboard at hospital
(credit: Thinkstock)

"It can't be done," he said.

In addition to guaranteeing subsidies for at least two years, they want tax incentives for insurers in the underserved counties and access, for those who live in the counties, to the federal employees' insurance plan. They say those changes would help prop-up insurance exchanges for now. Long term, they say the only way to fix the system is to bring down costs.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

"Ultimately we have to have some system," said Hickenlooper, "by which people know and can easily through their hand held device or whatever get a sense of what it's going to cost to get their broken leg fixed or stitches in arm or maybe a serious medical procedure. And know what that's going to cost and what their co-pay will be and what the quality is going to be at the various - let's say the five different places - that are within a five minute drive of where they live."

Sen. Michael Bennet (credit: CBS)

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, sits on the committee and echoed the need for more transparency,

"What we really need to grapple with - and all these governors have talked about it - is we're spending twice as much as what any other industrialized country in the world is spending on health care and we're getting worse results - increasingly worse results - and that's not satisfactory to people in Colorado whether they support the affordable care act or whether they don't."

The chair of the Senate committee says their goal is to pass a bill to stabilize the individual market by the end of the month - before insurers finalize rates for next year.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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