Crossing the Hurdles in Health Exchanges
By Krista Rinehart, CSG Leadership Center Coordinator
While Colorado Rep. Beth McCann is still serving her first term in the legislature, public service is nothing new to this lawyer turned politician.
Her father spent his career in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of colonel. “I believe he instilled in me a sense of the importance and fulfillment of public service,” said McCann.
Her mother taught special education and also taught her the value of giving back to the community.
“I have always been interested in government and law and I find public service more fulfilling and interesting than private sector work,” said McCann.
After completing her law degree at Georgetown University, McCann began her legal career clerking for U.S. District Judge Sherman Finesilver, one of her primary role models, particularly in the way she approaches law.
“He taught me to be thorough and detailed and always open minded and fair,” she said.
McCann’s impressive legal career continued with the Denver district attorney’s office, where she worked for eight years, and ultimately rose to the position of chief deputy district attorney. She then followed a stint in private practice by joining the attorney general’s office, where she serves as the deputy attorney general supervising the civil litigation and employment division. McCann’s legal career has included involvement in a number of legal and civic organizations, including her role as a founding member and first president of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association.
Despite her apparent ease with filling a public service role, McCann did not take naturally to the idea of running for elected office.
“Running for office was a challenging endeavor,” said McCann. “I must admit I found the idea intimidating. Once I did it the first time, I became more confident and realized that there are people who will help you. Ultimately, I felt that running for office would allow me to have more influence and be involved directly in policymaking.”
McCann has wasted no time getting actively involved in some of the biggest public policy issues facing her state, such as the creation and implementation of health exchanges. Colorado has been at the forefront of the health exchange issue and has received federal grants to support the state’s efforts. As a member of the bipartisan legislative oversight committee tasked with monitoring the state’s new Exchange Board, McCann is actively involved in the endeavor.
“I think the key to our success in Colorado is going to be the ability of the members of the Exchange Board to design and implement a fair and effective system,” said McCann, “and to sell it to the public and the political leadership.”
McCann acknowledges this success will not come easily.
“The political hurdles are challenging,” she said. “There are many in the state’s leadership who do not support the idea of the federal government having a role in the development of the exchange; there is resistance on some fronts. The timeline is very aggressive and the topic very complex. The stakeholders are numerous and the opinions strong.”
While recognizing the process will be difficult, McCann supports the exchange system and hopes the interested parties can come to a compromise that will serve her constituents’ best interests.
“I am very optimistic that insurance companies will design affordable, quality plans,” she said. “I expect that the technology will allow consumers to compare plans easily. I think it is going to be a good thing to require everyone to carry health insurance to spread the risk. I support requiring insurance companies to provide coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions. I believe we can make this work in Colorado and look forward to being part of the effort.”
Whether it is the current hot-button issue like health insurance exchanges or more traditional public interest topics like business development, McCann believes it is imperative to maintain an open dialogue with her constituents.
“One of the most important things we can do as state representatives is to stay connected and encourage constituents to be involved in the process,” said McCann.
For McCann, staying connected is much more than just sharing periodic updates on her work with voters via traditionally used newsletters and town hall Q&A sessions. Instead, she takes the town hall format one step further and uses it as an opportunity to educate the public about the issues at hand, the different sides of the debate and how the issues will impact everyday life.
Each town hall McCann hosts around her district is themed to a specific topic. She invites panelists and uses the time to talk about the broader issues, not just a single piece of legislation she may be sponsoring.
“I like having a topic because it gives us something specific to discuss,” said McCann, “and it also educates people about the topic. I generally have three or four panelists and we have a lot of discussion. That way my constituents can hear from the experts and get information they need in their work.”
McCann has found this interactive, issue-driven town hall format a useful complement to the more traditional information exchanged with regular emails or conferred during regular neighborhood meetings.
“My town halls are generally very well received and successful,” said McCann.
A desire to remain involved and in touch at the community level is not surprising given McCann’s family background of community and public service. This commitment to service has resulted in numerous awards and recognitions for McCann throughout her legal and legislative careers, including being named Outstanding Woman of the Year in 2000 by the Women’s Leadership Coalition and being selected as a member of the 2011 Toll Fellows class.