Tipton touts progress during campaign visit to Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Tipton touts progress during campaign visit to Craig

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, right, delivers books from the Library of Congress to Moffat County Library Director Sherry Sampson. While in Craig, Tipton also visited several local businesses and spoke with constituents.

CRAIG — During a campaign swing through Northwest Colorado on Wednesday, Aug. 29, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton — who is defending his seat against Democratic challenger Diane Mitsch Bush, of Steamboat Springs, in the November General Election — stopped in Craig to visit local industries, meet with constituents, and deliver books to the Moffat County Library.

Tipton took a moment during his visit to speak with the Craig Press about health care, the coal indusry, economic diversity, and the opioid crisis.

Health care

Asked about the already disproportionately high and quickly rising cost of health care costs in Northwest Colorado, Tipton laid much of the blame at the door of the United States Senate, which defeated a repeal and replace bill in July 2017.

Saying the Affordable Care Act failed to deliver what it promised, Tipton added the House replacement bill would have both lowered costs and guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions.

"The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, but it did not meet the criteria that we were told," Tipton said. "We were told it was going to slow the rate of our premiums increasing, we were told our premiums were going to go down $2,500, and it hasn't worked out that way. …Right not, those of us who live in rural Colorado … we get to pay a premium for the identical plan compared to our urban counterparts. We pay more."

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This inequity is exacerbated, he said, by the fact that Northwest Colorado workers earn a smaller per-capita income as compared to residents in resort communities and more populated cities on the Front Range.

"We do have the numbers," he said. "Our per-capita income happens to be less than our urban counterparts, so under the Affordable Care Act, those of us with lower incomes are required by law to pay more for a product than our urban counterparts, and the price continues to go up."

In his view, he said, the solution is to create a health care system that brings more health care providers to the region. This, he said, would drive down prices through increased competition.

"I think there is a better way to be able to provide real choice, real competition — to be able to lower those (premiums) and make sure we're getting not just insurance, but health care delivery," he said.

Asked whether he thinks a full repeal of the ACA remains plausible, Tipton was reluctant to offer predictions.

"From what we've seen, the Senate had an opportunity and chose not to," he said, referring to the Senate's razor-thin, July 2017, defeat of a bill that would have repealed the ACA. "That probably speaks for itself."

Pressed about potential future attempts for a full repeal, Tipton said: "I think the attempts need to be to fulfill the promise the American people would expect: to have not only accessibility, but affordability, as well."

"As I'm going through our counties, I am talking to people who are making a choice between buying their health insurance and paying the mortgage, and the health insurance, unfortunately, is running more than the mortgage," he said. "… I think some of the ideas that we had in the legislation that passed the House are worthy of consideration and we ought to revisit (them)," he said. "Are they perfect? No one said they were, but … one static point is, under the Affordable Care Act, we've seen our premiums go up, our access go down."

Changing economic landscape

Tipton acknowledged fossil fuels are a finite resource and that coal-dependent economies — such as Moffat County's — should be looking toward diversification now.

Yet, at the same time, he stressed that the coal and gas industries will likely be relevant for years to come.

Consequently, he said, his approach to energy is an "all-of-the-above" strategy, one that blends efforts to improve traditional energy extraction processes, while embracing emerging technologies for renewable energy.

He added that technology is also working to reduce the environmental impact of fossil fuel extraction.

"In all of our fuel sectors right now, we've seen good advances in technology that are far more environmentally friendly, far more efficient, and able to keep energy prices low," he said.

He characterized his last point — affordability — as a major focus.

"Energy is a big cost in a lot of people's lives," he said. "The distances we have to be able to drive, heating our homes, cooling our homes: Making that affordable, I think, is a positive goal that we should be striving to be able to do.

He cited pending legislation he sponsored — the "Planning for American Energy Act of 2017" — which he said encompasses every facet of the energy puzzle.

"It literally calls for all of the above," Tipton said of the bill. "Wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, oil, gas, oil shale — because we're under no illusion that our base-load sources of energy are going away any time soon. But we are seeing advances in terms of increased efficiencies for wind and solar."

The bottom line, he said is that he resists mandates that favor a one specific fuel source over another.

"We pick the best fuel source to be able to help our communities," he said. "… So that all-of-the-above energy portfolio is the best solution."

Opioid crisis

Acknowledging the nation's opioid crisis — and particularly, the heavy toll this crisis has exacted on Northwest Colorado — Tipton said the best single approach to combating the problem is not a single approach at all.

"It's not one approach, but it's going to have to be a multi-pronged approach," he said. "Obviously, it's not something the federal government alone is going to be able to solve. It's going to take collaborative effort with our state governments, our counties, our city governments and our families, as well."

Tipton said the House has passed some 30 pieces of legislation designed to address the opioid crisis, both by returning resources to the local mental health and medical communities, which stand on the front lines of the epidemic, and raising public awareness of the problem.

He mentioned specifically the ALTO — or Alternatives to Opioids — Act, which he co-sponsored in the House.

Citing a pilot project undertaken by Swedish Medical Center and designed to foster a reduction in the abuse of prescription opioids, Tipton said the project's goal was to reduce such abuse by 15 percent. The actual reduction realized in the project was 36 percent.

"That's progress," Tipton said, adding that the project focused on promoting the use of alternatives to opioids. "We've seen some really positive steps," he said.

During a recent trip to Pueblo, Tipton said, he visited a clinic that has been able to reduce the opioid prescription rate significantly through fostering awareness of the problem and increasing the availability of alternatives to opioid prescription.

He acknowledged there is an appropriate time for resorting to opioids in the management of severe or chronic pain.

"For some people, in limited dosage, that is the solution — to be able to help them be able to live with very chronic pain," he said.

Also touching upon the issues of unwitting addiction and underlying mental health issues, Tipton cautioned that the solution to the opioid epidemic will not come in the form of a "quick fix."

"This is not going to be a long-term, quick-fix sort of a thing," he said. "… This is going to take a number of years to deal with some of the challenges we've had."

Contact Jim Patterson at 970-875-1790 or jpatterson@CraigDailyPress.com.