If elected governor of Colorado, one of the first things Democratic nominee Jared Polis would do is dive into the disparity of the state’s health-care costs, he said Friday during a campaign stop at Willits Town Center in Basalt.
“We’re all getting ripped off on health care. I think we all know that,” Polis said. “As governor I’ll look forward to Colorado leading the way to save you money.”
Polis, 43, a Congressman representing U.S. House District 2, faces Republican Walker Stapleton in the Nov. 6 gubernatorial election. Stapleton is serving his second term as Colorado’s state treasurer.
Polis said the state faces many challenges, but health care tops the list. Even with a strong economy in Colorado, working families cannot get ahead because of high medical bills. There are huge disparities in costs, especially on the Western Slope, because of health-care exchanges that set rates that make no sense, he said.
“In western Colorado, addressing the enormous, unfair disparity in health-care costs is going to be something that we hope to solve in the first few months in office,” Polis said. He said he would work to “reconfigure pricing zones and bring down health-care costs” in places like Pitkin and Eagle counties “to a lot closer to what they pay in Mesa County and the Front Range.”
The state’s General Assembly, working with the governor, “can address the pricing disparities on the health-care exchange in western Colorado, whether it’s through one statewide pricing zone or a reconfiguration where there’s four or five with minimal discrepancies,” Polis said.
He used the example of Summit and Clear Creek counties to explain the issue.
“If you live in Frisco, or 30 miles down the road in Georgetown, you’re paying 50 percent more in Frisco — like what you’re paying here [in Basalt] — yet you’re going to the same doctor and to the same hospitals as people who are paying almost half as much.”
There’s no rationale for such differences, Polis said. “It’s an arbitrary effect of the way the states implemented health-care law. We will fix that. And we won’t give up until we save money on health care and use those savings to expand coverage, of course with the goal of universal coverage in our state, which is achievable,” he said.
Polis also took questions from the crowd. Audience member Stacey Craft brought up the Lake Christine Fire. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is holding community meetings this month about whether the Basalt gun range, where the fire was allegedly started July 3 by two individuals shooting tracer bullets, should reopen. The fire has scorched over 12,000 acres and, as of Friday, stood at 90 percent contained. Three houses were destroyed.
Craft and others want the gun range, which lies on state property, closed and/or relocated away from Basalt. She asked Polis whether he would monitor the situation.
Polis praised the work of the firefighters who saved neighborhoods and worked over the past five-plus weeks to contain the fire. But on the gun-range issue, he was noncommittal.
“In general, we need to do a better job making sure that when we have shooting ranges, they are actually used as a tool to reduce the fire risk, not increase it,” he said. “Sometimes the alternative is ‘dispersed shooting’ in our forest areas, which … in some cases generate not only public-safety risks but forest fires.”
He suggested that concerned residents should demand answers from CPW and other officials about safety precautions and mitigation being undertaken prior to reopening the Basalt shooting range or opening a new one in the area.
Had that discussion occurred a few years ago, “We’d be in a different place,” Polis said.
“The idea of having safe shooting ranges is a very good one,” he added. “If done right, they are a safer alternative to what we call ‘dispersed shooting,’ which is just people going out wherever and shooting.”
In separate one-on-one interviews with Aspen reporters, Polis spoke about the brouhaha over his refusal to debate Stapleton at September’s Club 20 political forum in Grand Junction. Club members, Republicans and some residents in the Grand Junction area have called it an affront to the longtime lobbying organization and western Colorado citizens in general.
Polis said he won’t debate Stapleton at the Club 20 forum because it’s not free and open to the public. He said he’s received a lot of positive feedback since his decision.
“The reaction has been very positive … we wanted a debate the people can come to for free and didn’t have to pay,” Polis said. “I hope [Stapleton] accepts more of our 13 debates and forums we’ve challenged him to.”
Stapleton has only agreed to six debates, Polis said.
“If [Stapleton] only wants to debate six times, maybe it’s because he’s scared of what we have to say, and how it’s a forward-looking vision for our state that’ll actually improve our schools, improve our roads and grow our economy,” he said.
Polis said he and Stapleton will be debating at a Mesa County event sponsored by The Daily Sentinel, Colorado Mesa University and Rocky Mountain PBS. The date, time and location have not been announced.
“We’ll have the debate [in Mesa County], and we’re excited about it,” he said.
Polis also addressed what could be perceived as negative attacks by the Colorado GOP on behalf of Stapleton. For example, concerning the decision by Polis not to attend the Club 20 debate, state GOP chairman Daniel Cole issued a news release, saying, “This isn’t a partisan issue. Even Democrats are calling out Polis on his flagrant snub of western Colorado.”
Another news release from Cole states, “Congressman Polis has been in Washington doubling down on his radical agenda and siding with the far-left extremists in his party.” According to the state GOP, Polis refused to condemn calls to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and also refused to state that a carbon tax “would be detrimental” to the U.S. economy.
“It’s no surprise,” Polis said, “because when you don’t have good ideas to grow the economy and good ideas to help people live out their lives and thrive, you resort to negativity. So the fact that they’re attacking me shows how they are devoid of ideas and vision for the state, in stark contrast to my plans to save people money on health care, invest in public schools, and protect our public lands.”
When reached for comment Friday, Stapleton’s communications director, Jerrod Dobkin, issued the following statement:
“Walker’s vision stands in stark contrast to Congressman Polis’ radical policies that include forcing a government-run, single-payer health-care system on Coloradans that will lead to higher taxes and less choices and destroying energy jobs that are critical to our Western Slope communities. Walker will continue to travel throughout the state and speak directly to the voters about his vision for the future of Colorado.”