Election 2018GovernorHealth careHot Sheet

Only Democratic candidates answered Healthier Colorado questions

Author: Joey Bunch - June 19, 2018 - Updated: June 19, 2018

Healthier Colorado(Courtesy of Healthier Colorado)

Health care is a major issue in politics, but Healthier Colorado could only get half of the eight candidates running for governor to respond to a questionnaire about their policies.

The left-leaning advocacy organization is the same one that pushed a tax on sugary soft drinks in Boulder in 2016, with a big assist from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. So you can forgive all four Republicans from declining. The organization tells Colorado Politics they reached out to all eight campaigns.

It’s free publicity backed by a five-figure marking campaign, Healthier Colorado said.

So where do Democrats Mike Johnston, Cary Kennedy, Donna Lynne and Jared Polis stand?

Johnston pointed out he’s the only candidate who grew on the Western Slope, so he understands first-hand the urban-rural disparities in affordable and accessible health care.

“In my health care policy, I have called for bringing higher quality health care to rural Colorado and other markets where gaps exist in two key ways: First, I will expand telemedicine to bring services to underserved parts of the state through improving broadband access. This infrastructure will enable new and innovative practices to help patients access the providers they need,” he says on the website. “Second, I will dramatically expand the tax credits to needed providers who serve in underserved areas, so that we can attract needed full and part-time talent to the parts of the state that need them the most.”

Kennedy answered a question about the socioeconomic barriers to improving Colorado’s public health for children via alternative transportation:

“I support funding the development of bike, trails, and walk infrastructure that makes Colorado communities healthier, safer, and more connected to public transit,” she replied. “As part of my platform for better preparing for growth, I released a comprehensive transportation plan that is centered on the values of choice, mobility, and sustainability. In the research process for that plan, experts stressed the negative affect (sic) that even a small gap in sidewalk infrastructure can have on ridership and access to public transit.”

Poorer families also could be healthier with more access to government aid, Kennedy said.

“The first step that Colorado can take is to increase eligibility in national nutrition programs such as SNAP,” she wrote. “Recent data from the USDA shows Colorado’s SNAP enrollment rate at 45th worst in the nation. Specifically, the percentage of eligible seniors who are accessing their SNAP benefits is dropping with the gulf between Colorado and the United States widening. We must do a better job of ensuring that Coloradans access the benefits they are eligible for. That means doing more targeted outreach and education. As governor, I will also lead the state to pursue any opportunities for streamlining eligibility processes so that a single application can qualify people for the multiple programs they are eligible for.”

Polis’s plan for food security is more grassroots.

“We will invest in the deployment of mobile fresh food markets in rural and urban food deserts by developing partnerships with supermarkets, health-focused foundations, and public transit agencies to refurbish unused buses, for example, and improve access to healthy foods,” he said. “I also plan on expanding the Rural Colorado Venture Capital Fund to work for the public good by investing in cutting-edge and data-based solutions to rising health care costs and to incentivize entrepreneurs to open markets to combat food insecurity. Additionally, we will promote opportunities for young people in farming, ranching, and food delivery in underserved local markets through the Agricultural Workforce Development Program.”

Polis said rural healthcare should begin online, and the tech millionaire said that means investing in rural broadband.

“Our state statute is cluttered with outdated language that prevents both the deployment of broadband infrastructure to rural Colorado and the ability of cities and counties to offer municipal broadband to their citizens due to protectionist measures placed into law by giant telecom companies,” he said. “As governor, I will modernize our laws to reflect the growing consensus that the internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for daily life. By doing so, we can effectively aid in the delivery of telemedicine and telehealth to rural Colorado. This will save people time and money by connecting doctors to patients through HIPAA-compliant applications.”

Johnston also is a fan of telemedicine, including for mental health needs.

“Simply put, Colorado’s mental health system is not meeting our mental and behavioral health needs,” he replied. “We must modernize and expand our investments in these systems. The answer here mirrors what I’ll do to expand primary care in rural areas — I will expand broadband so telemedicine can flourish, and use tax credits to get providers where they are needed most.

“I’m particularly excited to think about how expanding telemedicine services could revolutionize mental health care in rural areas. I know what it’s like to grow up in a small community, and how that can make it even harder to access stigmatized mental health services. Telemedicine, and the ability for people to receive mental health services in the privacy of their own home, for example, could be a game changer.”

Lynne, a former Kaiser Permanente executive, was in her element, dropping the PhD she holds in public health. But multi-modal benefits exceed health, she said. She backed a statewide sales tax proposal this November, because it would steer money into alternative transportation.

“I believe there is a lot of merit to Proposed Initiative 153, the statewide measure which would couple a 20-year statewide sales tax increase with limited bonding authority to make a meaningful impact in meeting state and local infrastructure needs, including significant investments in multi-modal transportation,” she replied. “In addition to the health implications you mention in the question, I see multimodal transportation investment as a necessity to meet the needs of Colorado’s growing population, the environmentally responsible thing to do and also an issue of equity, as we consider that many Coloradans – including seniors, low-income Coloradans and Coloradans living with disabilities – often rely on mass transit to live independently and successfully.”

You can read all the answers by clicking here.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.