A group of well-organized advocates wants to experiment with Colorado’s health care industry — and the experiment could damage not only the health of the economy, but also the health of every person in the state.
Amendment 69 was written to create a single-payer system unlike any other in the nation. The constitutional amendment, if passed by Colorado voters in November, eventually would create a state agency to act as a health insurance company — approving doctor visits, surgeries and overnight hospital stays. The agency would be financed through a 10 percent payroll tax, with 6 percent paid for by companies, 3 percent by workers and 1 percent from “non-payroll income.”
The plan, called ColoradoCare, would have no copayments for designated preventive services, no deductibles and would cover both preventive and long-term health care needs for everyone. Even prescription medicine, mental health and pediatric services would be covered. It replaces workers compensation insurance, to some extent, with private insurers only responsible for covering missed-work payments.
Advocates say it will streamline health care in Colorado, making it easier to see a doctor and driving down costs of insurance and medicine. They say it would lower the cost of out-of-pocket health care expenses from $6.3 billion to $2 billion and drop premiums from a total of $31.2 billion under the current system to $26.7 billion under ColoradoCare.
Sounds like a great solution to an intractable problem: the rising cost of health insurance.
But maybe not.
Some analysts say it will cost more than the $26.7 billion estimated by the amendment language. Opponents believe the state budget is already overburdened — and adding the cost of Amendment 69 would be a tremendous mistake.
Gov. John Hickenlooper opposes Amendment 69, saying that current health care reforms are just starting to bear fruit, and changing the system now is premature. State Treasurer Walker Stapleton says that the measure would “literally double the state budget” while imposing new taxes on working families. At a recent town hall meeting, Stapleton said the amendment was “very dangerous” and would give the state the highest income tax in the nation — something that could hinder economic development and job growth.
It places an unfair burden on the self-employed and sole-proprietor businesses — which would pay the entire 10 percent to the state.
There’s little accountability with the proposal. It’s designed to operate outside Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights limitations and outside state regulations. It would be run by a 21-member board with the authority to decide coverage, negotiate prices and raise taxes without oversight from the governor or the General Assembly. Would doctors and other health care providers stay in Colorado to take part in this grand experiment? Would large, multi-national companies who self-insure their workers make an exception to move to or stay in the state?
That’s one reason the bill is dangerous: It could have serious negative consequences on state economic development.
It’s a big gamble — and it’s one that will be written into the Constitution, making it difficult to change or to repeal if the experiment fails.
That’s too big a risk for Colorado businesses to afford, and there’s too much uncertainty about Amendment 69 to take a chance on whether it could be the answer to health care needs.
We should never gamble with Colorado’s health — or its economic future.