Coloradans ponder Amendment 69’s ColoradoCare | CraigDailyPress.com

Coloradans ponder Amendment 69’s ColoradoCare

Rising insurance rates spark concerns among residents

Michael Neary

As concerns mount over the cost of Colorado health insurance, Amendment 69 offers one approach.

The numbers of uninsured Coloradans have fallen sharply since the implementation of the Affordable Care ActAffordable Care Act, but the people working to place Amendment 69 on the ballot see the lingering populations of uninsured — and the underinsured — as unacceptable., but the people working to place Amendment 69 on the ballot see the lingering populations of uninsured — and the underinsured — as unacceptable.

Affordable Care Act, but the people working to place Amendment 69 on the ballot see the lingering populations of uninsured — and the underinsured — as unacceptable.

Owen Perkins sums up ColoradoCareColoradoCare, to be proposed in Amendment 69, this way: “It’s a universal health care plan that covers all Coloradans.”, to be proposed in Amendment 69, this way: "It's a universal health care plan that covers all Coloradans."

ColoradoCare, to be proposed in Amendment 69, this way: "It's a universal health care plan that covers all Coloradans."

Perkins is the director of communications for the ColoradoCareYES campaign.

Perkins noted that in lieu of insurance premiums, deductibles and co-payments, the plan "pays for itself primarily through a 3.33 percent payroll tax on employees and a 6.67 percent payroll tax on employers."

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The plan also, as stated in Section 9 of the amendment, collects "10 percent of all non-payroll income from all beneficiaries."

The amendment effort comes in the midst of concern about rising health insurance rates.

Lisa Brown, chief executive officer for Northwest Colorado Health — formerly the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association — expressed particular concern about those rates.

"The premiums are very high," she said. "Even with very high premiums, people have high deductibles."

Brown noted that insurance tends to be particularly costly in rural parts of the state, and she said the state's Division of Insurance — part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies — is exploring the feasibility of creating statewide rates, rather than rates that vary from section to section of the state.

ColoradoCare is described in the amendment as "a political subdivision of the state governed by a 21 member board of trustees" to administer the system. The 21-member board will preside over a budget of about $25 billion.

The text of the amendment can be found at http://tinyurl.com/jmabrcxhttp://tinyurl.com/jmabrcx. Section 6 lists the health services covered, ranging from “ambulatory patient services” to “palliative and end-of-life care.”. Section 6 lists the health services covered, ranging from "ambulatory patient services" to "palliative and end-of-life care."

http://tinyurl.com/jmabrcx. Section 6 lists the health services covered, ranging from "ambulatory patient services" to "palliative and end-of-life care."

Perkins said the plan, even if approved by voters, "can't go into effect legally unless it covers as many or more people as the Affordable Care Act at the same cost or lower, and with the same benefits or better." That's the requirement it needs to meet, he said, in order for the state to continue receiving federal matching funds.

Supporters of the plan say that even with strides made by the Affordable Care Act, strong health care remains out of reach for a significant portion of residents.

"I think that the major inadequacy in our current system is that to purchase insurance is still unaffordable for many people," said Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver. Aguilar noted that even when people find a plan they can afford, the deductibles and co-payments to use that insurance remain out of reach.

Aguilar is the ranking member from the Democratic Party on the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, voiced opposition to the amendment.

"I don't think Amendment 69 is going to help any of the inequities out there," he said.

Speaking of the 21-member board of trustees, Baumgardner said, "The board writes its own rules and makes its own elections. There's no legislative oversight. There's no way the Colorado Legislature can make any decisions on how this is run."

Baumgardner also noted objection to the tax that would be levied.

"This is going to raise everybody's taxes, whether they like this or don't like it," he said. "It will be like the health care that socialist countries have.

According to the Colorado Health Access SurveyColorado Health Access Survey, from the Colorado Health Institute, 829,000 Coloradans were uninsured in 2011, or 15.8 percent of the population. The number of uninsured dropped to 353,000 people in 2015, or 6.7 percent of the population., from the Colorado Health Institute, 829,000 Coloradans were uninsured in 2011, or 15.8 percent of the population. The number of uninsured dropped to 353,000 people in 2015, or 6.7 percent of the population.

Colorado Health Access Survey, from the Colorado Health Institute, 829,000 Coloradans were uninsured in 2011, or 15.8 percent of the population. The number of uninsured dropped to 353,000 people in 2015, or 6.7 percent of the population.

Perkins said the tax on employers would not reach the average level of health insurance costs they currently pay — costs that Amendment 69, he said, could eliminate.

Citing a March 2015 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from the U.S. Department of Labor, Perkins said, "Businesses right now pay an average of 13.5 percent of their payroll on health insurance, and that includes the full spectrum of businesses — including those that pay zero (percent on health insurance)."

Aguilar, who is a physician, said that a plan creating universal health care throughout the country would be best, but she noted that the U.S. Congress has voted 61 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She said such a plan would also be unlikely to pass the state Legislature.

"I think the same unreasonable toxicity around health care has trickled into Colorado politics," she said.

Aguilar noted the difficulty of change within both parties. She cited a Republican position "against the idea of the government being in some way responsible for ensuring that people have access to health care," and she said that Democrats, too, receive "lobbying money and contributions that come from the health care industry."

Aguilar also characterized, as troublesome, the relationship between health care and the marketplace.

"I think it's really hard for people to understand how traditional marketplace rules don't apply in health care because the value (of health care) is infinite," she said. "Most people would destitute themselves to save their lives."

That creates, she said, an opportunity for companies to raise prices higher than many can afford to pay.

Brown, with Northwest Colorado Health, said ColoradoCare would constitute a major change — one that she continues to examine.

"I think it would significantly change how the business of health care operates in Colorado," she said. "It basically would remove having health insurance companies."

That change, she said, would lift from providers the task of helping patients figure out what their various insurance plans cover — and how much they reimburse.

"It would become less complicated," Brown said.

Brown also reflected upon Medicare, which she said works according to a similar philosophy.

"Medicare is available to all citizens once they're 65," she said. "When that age group receives their care, the differences in health outcomes start to diminish. We do have a single-payer system with Medicare that seems to work well for people."

She also noted concern that under ColoradoCare, "one entity would have a lot of control over the payment for the care."

Brown said she thinks the ColoradoCare plan "has the potential to be beneficial," and she said she hoped to study more detailed analysis in the coming months.

"We're definitely researching it and seeing what we can learn," she said.

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.
Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.