The dome of the Colorado Capitol

The dome of the Colorado Capitol on July 26, 2019. A “public option,” as this type of plan is called in wonk-speak, is a holy grail of the slightly-left-of-center health policy world. 

KEYSTONE — Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway, his face bearing the golden-retriever smile of someone who is used to getting yelled at but not taking it personally, opened the floor to comments with a suitably open-ended question: As Colorado designs a publicly backed health insurance plan, what should it look like?

State lawmakers this year passed a bill making Colorado one of the first states in the country to create such a plan. It would guarantee consumers have at least one comprehensive health insurance option across the state, even if private carriers pull out. It would offer coverage at prices competitive to or below current rates. Access and affordability were its buzzwords.

But lawmakers left the rest of the details blank. It would be up to Conway and Kim Bimestefer, the head of the state’s Medicaid department, to make it all work, a task no state official anywhere in the country has ever actually done.

So here they were last week in Keystone, at the fifth of at least 11 stakeholder meetings across the state, looking for input. What should this be? Conway asked.

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