Universal ColoradoCare debated in Carbondale
ColoradoCare, the $25 billion universal health-care initiative being put forward as Amendment 69 on the state ballot this November, topped the agenda Monday in a pro-and-con debate before a gathering in Carbondale of regional health services representatives.
The state income tax-funded measure would replace the current private health insurance exchange and associated premiums now mandated through the federal Affordable Care Act.
It would fund a statewide, nonprofit health insurance system that would provide coverage to all Colorado residents.
“We feel that we do have one of best solutions possible to move from the current health-care payment system to one that insures every Coloradan has affordable health care,” Colorado Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Gilpin County, said during the debate held as part of the West Mountain Regional Health Alliance meeting at the Carbondale Branch Library.
“Yes, it is a tax increase,” she said, acknowledging the large price tag, essentially doubling the state budget, to implement universal health coverage in Colorado.
“But this is one of the rare times when a tax increase represents a cost savings … because you are replacing something that you now pay a lot more for,” she said, noting that Colorado businesses and individuals now spend about $30 billion a year on health insurance.
Speaking against the initiative was Christian Reece, executive director for the Grand Junction-based Club 20, a coalition of Western Slope businesses and local governments that opposes the measure.
She called the ballot proposal “risky, uncertain and unaffordable,” and said it would drive business out of Colorado and disrupt the positive economic gains the state has experienced in recent years.
“This would be a first-of-its-kind, government-run system that may not work as it’s intended,” Reece said. “The ballot language is very vague and doesn’t describe how this is to be implemented.
“It just leaves too many questions and decisions up to chance,” she said, adding those decisions would be left to a 21-member elected governing board that opponents believe would lack accountability.
It also locks the new health-care system into the Colorado Constitution by amendment, making it difficult to change or do away with if it doesn’t work, Reece said.
ColoradoCare would be funded by 3.33 percent employee and 6.67 percent employer payroll deduction. Business income and other types of income would also be taxed under the measure.
“That’s a massive new tax for all Coloradans, and it will have an impact on our ability to be economically competitive,” Reece said.
Nicholson countered that the measure would actually save $4.5 billion annually in health-care costs in the state, partly by doing away with private administrative costs that are a big reason health care is so expensive.
She noted that Colorado employers and their workers now pay an average of 13.5 percent on their earnings for private health insurance premiums, “and for fewer benefits that what we are proposing,” Nicholson said.
Although the ACA, or Obamacare, has been a positive step, she said, its weakness is that it will never cover everyone.
“Health insurance will always remain unaffordable for a percentage of our population,” Nicholson said, adding that while the percent of uninsured people has gone down since the inception of ACA, a high percentage of people remain underinsured.
“Every other industrialized nation in the world has figured out how to cover everyone,” she said.
Responding to criticisms that Colorado shouldn’t go it alone as a single state in adopting universal health care, she pointed to Canada as an example where one province, Saskatchewan, led the way in the middle part of the 20th century before the rest of the country followed.
“Colorado can do something similar by starting universal health coverage, which we would hope will move to the rest of the country,” she said.
Reece worried that Colorado would “once again” become a “guinea pig” in trying something new at the state level, as it has with legalizing marijuana.
“Even if you agree that we need a single-payer system for health care, we are finding that most Coloradans agree that Amendment 69 is not the right answer for Colorado,” she said.
The Amendment 69 opposition group, Coloradans for Coloradans, has bipartisan support including former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, business organizations and health-care professionals, Reece also noted.
The proposal calls for a two-year implementation period and appointment of a 15-member interim board of trustees to work out the fine details of the new system. It also hinges on keeping the $13 billion in federal funding tied to meeting the requirements of the ACA.
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Home values in western Garfield County are way up, according to tax assessors. That will contribute to a higher tax bill next year.