Former Colorado Governor and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, during a tour of the Grizzly Creek Fire incident command center in Eagle last week, took a minute to lay out his U.S. Senate campaign platform on health care as he tries to unseat incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner.

John Hickenlooper at Grizzly Creek Fire incident command in Eagle last week (David O. Williams photo).

“Government should only do the things that people can’t do for themselves and having a health plan that includes everybody clearly is beyond the means of many individuals,” Hickenlooper, a Democrat, told “By many, I’m talking about millions and millions of people, so we can create a public option and there are other savings we can find in our health care infrastructure that’ll help pay for it. It’s not going to cost an arm and leg.”

Critics of a national pubic option, which was originally part of Obamacare proposals in 2009 but stripped out to woo moderate Democrats, say it’s too expensive and a slippery slope to single-payer, government-controlled health insurance. Hickenlooper challenges that argument.

“That is such a misnomer, such a false description,” Hickenlooper said. “If we start negotiating discounts for the bulk purchases of prescription drugs and look at some of those savings and how they would augment and really in many ways pay for a sliding-scale public option. So if people can’t find what they want on the exchange, they have an alternative, they have something they can choose that will serve their needs.”

State lawmakers in mountain counties have been pushing a Colorado public option that uses the infrastructure of the private insurance industry. It was derailed this past legislative session by deep budget cuts necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Democrat Dylan Roberts of Avon vows to bring it back next session because so many people are losing employer-based insurance along with their jobs and may not be eligible for some plans due to preexisting conditions.

Roberts also contends a public option will create more competition in his two counties – Routt and Eagle – where there’s currently just one company selling Obamacare plans on the individual market (for people who do not get their health insurance through their employer).

Eagle County has some of the highest individual market rates in the nation, and Democrats fear the situation will get worse if the Trump administration, which supports a Republican lawsuit challenging Obamacare, is successful in having it overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We maintain the protections for people with preexisting conditions,” Hickenlooper said of national public option that would not be able to exclude people based on previous cases of COVID-19, cancer or other diseases. “Gardner says he’s got a bill for that. But every expert who has looked says it’s a joke.”

Primarily, health care experts who have examined Gardner’s very bare-bones proposal say it doesn’t allow insurers to explicitly exclude customers for preexisting conditions but also doesn’t compel them to provide insurance to those people they way Obamacare does.

“Cory Gardner has been in office for almost six years now and he has no alternative,” Hickenlooper said of his Republican opponent. “He continues to try to take away the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), continues to take away people’s protections for preexisting conditions, and he has in five years not put forward any kind of a believable, credible alternative. I think that’s government malpractice.”

The Gardner campaign sent this in response: “Gardner is leading the bill to ensure a group health plan and insurers offering group plans may not impose any exclusion, factor health status into premiums or charges, exclude benefits relating to pre-existing conditions from coverage, or otherwise exclude benefits, set limits, or increase charges based on any pre-existing condition or health status.”

A Gardner campaign spokesperson also sent a written statement identical to a statement attributed to a different spokesperson in a Colorado Sun story:

“Senator Gardner consistently talks about lowering health care costs, strengthening innovation, and expanding access for all Coloradans,” said Meghan Graf, Gardner campaign spokesperson. “While Governor Hickenlooper and Democrats push for a one-size-fits-all, government-run approach, Senator Gardner has focused his efforts on bipartisan, commonsense policies that improve health care for Coloradans.”