Bipartisan co-sponsorship of a bill to set up a public healthcare exchange in Colorado appears now to be on shaky ground after House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, broke a pact between herself and Democratic cosponsor Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, by pushing what Boyd called a “poison pill” amendment. The bill without the amendment passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a split vote, with Democrats voting in support.
In a letter sent to Boyd Thursday, Stephens asked that SB 200 be amended to read that the state would only enact the bill if Colorado petitioned the federal government to opt out of the federal Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act of 2010 in the next 60 days.
While the amendment failed in committee after Democratic committee members voted it down, in the letter sent to Boyd, Stephens said that if the bill was not amended to include her provision, she would ensure that the House version was.
“This is a poison pill and I don’t think there is anybody who thinks differently,” Boyd said.
The amendment reads:
“The provisions of SB 200 shall not be implemented, nor shall they have force or effect, until the State of Colorado requests, and the federal government grants, a full waiver from all terms, restrictions, and requirements in the federal Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act of 2010, and all rules, regulations and administrative guidelines issued thereto. The Governor of the State of Colorado shall seek such waiver within 60 days of the enactment of this Act.”
The letter was sent out Thursday to journalists by the House Majority Office.
According to Boyd, both legislators had made an agreement not to change the bill unless both had vetted the change.
“All my amendments we had already agreed on–that is the difference,” Boyd said.
While out of state, Stephens gave some reasoning for her decision to ask that the amendment be offered.
“[The] enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – otherwise known as Obamacare – has so thoroughly contaminated the public discourse about the nation’s healthcare system that even simple and common-sense ideas like healthcare exchanges have become toxic and fraught with public policy peril,” Stephens wrote in her letter. “In as much as I believe that healthcare exchanges are a good idea, in order to be a good representative of my district, I must ensure that these state exchanges are not hijacked for the unconstitutional purposes of implementing the federal healthcare legislation.”
Boyd said the amendment simply would not be accepted in the Senate, because it would mean Colorado would totally opt-out of the federal program and would limit the number of people who could participate in the pool by disallowing individuals who could receive federal subsidies to purchase healthcare.
“With this amendment, Colorado would become one of the first states in the nation to take-up President Obama on his recent offer to allow States to opt-out of his healthcare bill,” Stephens wrote. “In exchange for the bold step of opting out of Obamacare, the State of Colorado will have healthcare exchanges that help patients get and receive affordable and reliable healthcare. It is a win-win for the State of Colorado.”
Members of the coalition supporting healthcare exchanges said they would not support the bill if the Stephens amendment was included.
The bill as introduced would create the Colorado Health Exchange with a board tasked with putting together the exact components of the exchange and eventual oversight. According to the Senate Majority Office, over 350,000 Coloradans would likely be eligible to use the exchange to purchase health insurance from insurers.
The exchange would serve as an independent public entity governed by a board of nine. Five members of the board would be appointed by the governor, while the senate president, senate minority leader, speaker of the house, and house minority leader would each appoint one member. In addition, non-voting members would include representatives of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, the commissioner of insurance, and the director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
Some members of the business community were on hand at the committee testifying in support of the bill they said would save small businesses in the state money. One individual testified the exchange would save his small company as much as $23,000 a year by increasing his purchasing power.
Business groups behind the bill include the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Competitive Council, and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) among others.
NFIB said it remains committed to overturning the Federal Healthcare plan. However, it stood in support of SB 200.
“NFIB opposed the federal healthcare law because we believe it will increase costs for small businesses,” an NFIB spokesperson told the committee. “Senate Bill 200 is consistent with those principles, consistent with consumer based pricing, consumer choice among plans, portability between jobs, easy insurance comparisons, administrative cost savings, larger, more stable risk pools and a workable marketplace.”
The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry said that while government tends to hurt business more often than it helps, this was one bill its members were in support of.
“In this bill there is no mandate to purchase government insurance. There is no government agency that determines what plans you can purchase,” Dan Anglin, a lobbyist for Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), said. “There is no bureaucrat that a customer of an insurance plan must call for approval. There are only more affordable private health plans, all available in one place (giving people) the ability to purchase from as many insurance carriers as choose to offer products within the exchange.”
Despite Stephens’ and the business community’s assurances, Senate Republicans voted unanimously against the bill.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, provided voice to the opposition. He said he had spent two weeks delving the depths of the bill but failed to find anything that resembled the free-market principles the bill was purported to espouse.
“The reason that has been given for the bill is a free-market solution that will drive down the cost of medical care and I see neither,” Lundberg said. “I see it as the combination of what the Congress is trying to force the states into,” Lundberg said.
Boyd told the Colorado Independent that despite all the complications involved in the bill thus far, there has been consensus in the past.
“I am still hopeful we may be able to get bipartisan support,” Boyd said.
After today’s vote count, that hope seemed faint.
The bill passed 5-4.