Curry, Roberts plan to delay mandate moratorium

One hurdle has been lowered for this session’s proposed state legislation that would seek to force health insurance companies to cover more people and more conditions in Colorado. State Reps Kathleen Curry and Ellen Roberts have decided to postpone a controversial moratorium on health insurance mandates in a  bill they argue will improve the mandate process .

Rep Kathleen Curry (MBO; Flickr)

Rep Kathleen Curry (MBO; Flickr)

By holding back the start of the moratorium to next session, the two Western Slope lawmakers have effectively thrown the floor back open for mandate bills– like the one being drawn up by Denver Democrat K. Jerry Frangas’s that would require insurance companies to cover maternity and birth control.

Curry, a Gunnison Democrat recently turned Independent, and Roberts, a Durango Republican seeking a seat in the state Senate, were seeking to place a one-year moratorium on laws like Frangas’s while lawmakers attempt to overhaul the state’s mandate commission.

Curry drew heat for the proposed legislation, which political blog Colorado Pols called a “nasty bill” authored by the insurance industry and the reason Curry was effectively forced to change party affiliations. But Curry told the Colorado Independent that the bill’s intent was never to shut down any particular mandate being proposed for this legislative session.

“I thought we could just diffuse that whole debate by having the bill kick in after the session is over,” she said.

The Mandate Commission

Shortly before Curry formally announced she was leaving the Democratic party at the end of December, Colorado Pols opined that the move was precipitated by Curry’s co-sponsorship of the mandate moratorium bill. “Curry’s sponsorship was seen as improper bipartisan cover for Roberts on a bill with significant political import,” a Pols blogger wrote.

Curry said that kind of speculation had been “blown out of proportion.” She acknowledged, however, that reactions to the bill had “highlighted the difference in philosophy” she had with members of the Democratic party.

“There was a difference of opinion between me and other folks in the caucus who work a lot on insurance industry,” she said. “The difference really came about because of the thoughts that some people had that we should be actively working against, or [working] to penalize the health insurance industry.  That has come up more than once— that somehow it is an ‘us versus them’ situation. And I don’t believe that.“

In conversations about the bill, both Curry and Roberts emphasized that, for them, the bill is really more about overhauling the state’s Commission on Mandated Health Benefits than it is about the moratorium.

“The moratorium is a piece, but it is kind of the secondary piece,” said Roberts. She added that its purpose is to allow Colorado to wait for federal reform to pass.

The legislative mandate commission was instituted in 2003, according to Roberts, and is supposed to provide committees with a cost-benefit analysis of all proposed mandates.

Considering time and place

According to Roberts, however, Insurance Commissioner Marcy Morrison has argued in year-end reports that the commission is not working properly.  For example, said Roberts, one bill last session— a proposed mandate for preventative health services— never went through the mandate commission at all.

Another of Commissioner Morrison’s main complaints, according to Roberts, is the extremely short periods of time the commission is often given to review a bill.

So Curry and Roberts hope to establish a mandatory time period for the commission to work. They first proposed 30 days, but Roberts she now thinks that might be too long.

“We’re trying to figure out if there is something better than trying to have them produce it in 24 hours,” said Roberts. “But we don’t want it to be so cumbersome that people who have these bills can’t get through the process at all.”

Curry added that the bill will also ensure that the committee has time to review the reports before voting.

Curry and Roberts are also proposing moving the location of the mandate commission from the executive branch to the legislative branch.

Because members of the executive branch are appointed by the party in power, said Curry, there is always an inherent bias in the executive branch.  On the other hand, she argued that the Legislative Council is composed of nonpartisan employees already very familiar with the legislative process. The two will first have to determine if the Legislative Council can take on the additional work.

As for accusations that, in carrying the bill (which is being pushed by the Colorado State Association of Health Underwriters), she is acting as a pawn for the industry, Curry said such accusations are a way to dodge the conversation about the real cost of health care.

“I’m addressing an issue my constituents care a lot about—and that would be the control of cost associated  with health insurance…The real conversation has to do with escalating costs, the reasons for those costs, and what we can do as elected officials,” she said.

This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Curry and Roberts are delaying the start of the proposed moratorium–not the proposal of the bill.

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Katie Redding

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