Rachel Wall’s healthcare experience has been a lifelong journey.
She was born with a rare disease she said causes episodes of mass swelling that can range from painful to life-threatening. Facing costly out-of-pocket expenses, she would sometimes put off going to the emergency room or using an EpiPen. She has insurance now, but there is still a high deductible.
She’s had times where she’s put other things ahead of her own health because of the costs, and called that calculation “dehumanizing.”
“I tell myself I am worthy of treatment ,” she said. “I invest in myself to remember that I am more than the cost of a pre-existing condition.”
Wall was among several Coloradans on Wednesday who provided testimony on the hardships of healthcare costs and access in the state. They’re the kinds of folks Gov. Jared Polis hopes the newly-established Office of Saving People Money on Healthcare will help serve. The office was created Wednesday through an executive order and will exist within the governor’s office.
The office was name-dropped during Polis’ State of the State address on Jan. 10.
The office has a pretty straightforward goal. In front of lawmakers and healthcare advocates packed inside the governor’s chambers, Polis said the office will address the rising healthcare costs in Colorado and across the country that are forcing families to “go without necessary services.” It will focus on reducing patient costs for hospital stays, expenses and improve transparency of healthcare pricing.
The office’s primary will goal will be to figure out the root causes of what Polis said are the “outrageous costs of healthcare.”
“We aren’t giving this office some kind of fancy name to make it sound important. We’re giving it a simple name because it is important,” Polis said.
Leading the office will be longtime patient advocate and cancer survivor Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera. It’s a position nearly tailor-made for the former state legislator, who worked in the General Assembly to advance healthcare bills. Polis said Primavera will spend “a fair amount of time” leading the office in addition to her other duties as lieutenant governor.
At this point, high medical costs are leaving families to make “devastating choices” between continuing care or funding basic necessities.
“My life’s mission is to help people who are facing the same fate that I once did,” Primavera said. “That’s why I’m honored to lead the Office of Saving People Money on Healthcare.”
Primavera knows firsthand what the struggle the office seeks to address looks like. After being diagnosed with cancer, she lost her job, her insurance and her marriage. She needed to figure out how to keep her and her two daughters afloat while combating cancer.
“I’ve lived it personally,” Primavera said. “But I’ve also seen through my work that you can’t talk about access without talking about affordability.”
Among the office’s focuses will be figuring out the high cost of healthcare in Colorado’s rural and mountain areas, while pushing to find new models to reduce healthcare costs. Primavera said input for solutions will come from various state departments, stakeholders and advocates.
The General Assembly is also seeking to address healthcare costs with bills proposing improving hospital cost transparency and a state option for health care coverage. House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver said his colleagues hear from constituents daily saying they’re tired of being “ripped off” by their healthcare costs.
“We are serious about addressing the out-of-control costs of prescription drugs, which is why we’re getting to work on a way to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada,” Garnett said.
Polis is requesting $247,000 from the legislature to fund the office