Health exchange bill passes even as debate centers on Affordable Care Act

Republicans attacked a bipartisan bill to set up a health benefit exchange in Colorado with a 3rd reading poison-pill amendment Wednesday while calling the bill an extension of the Federal program. Democrats voting to pass SB 200 said that the bill was anything but that.

SB 200, sponsored by Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, would create a pseudo-governmental board that would develop an insurance exchange from which individuals and small business owners can choose coverage. The pool would presumably drive costs down for those seeking insurance.

“Let’s be honest,” Sen. Jeane Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, said. “This bill is an opportunity for insurance companies to make significant profits…. We need to support this bill because almost a million people are uninsured because they cannot afford health insurance coverage at the rates that are offered to them.”

Despite the bipartisan sponsorship, the bill has come under attack by Tea Party supporters and Republicans, including those on the floor of the Senate Wednesday, who charged that it is little more than the implementation of “Obama-Care.” Despite assurances from House Majority Leader Stephens, who said the bill had been a Republican plan since well before the federal health care plan, Republicans voted against the bill and tried to amend it further in what appeared to be an attempt to link it to the federal program.

“In the end we lose our personal freedom and this is a significant step that Colorado is taking to pass this bill today.” Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said.

King asked for an amendment that would call for the the Colorado health care exchange program to be reconsidered if the federal act is repealed in order for Colorado to determine whether the national model is still appropriate for the state.

Boyd, however, responded that the bill was a Colorado model and already had a 5-year review provision attached to it. She said that no one was being forced into the exchanges by the bill.

“Sen. King is talking about a Colorado solution created by Coloradans. That is exactly what this bill does. It creates a board of Coloradans who will create this health exchange for Colorado.” Boyd said. “From the beginning we have all been saying that this is a good bill that we should be trying.

“The sponsors of the bill both agree that regardless of what might happen with the federal law, this bill does not depend on it. It shouldn’t be dependent on what happens with the federal law.”

While Tea Party members and other outspoken conservatives have launched an all out attack on the bill, members of the business community have so far been solidly behind it. The Colorado, United States, Grand Junction, and Denver Metro Chambers of Commerce have endorsed the bill. In addition, both the Colorado Competitive Council and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) have signed on to the legislation.

NFIB said during the bill’s first hearing in the Senate that while NFIB remains committed to overturning the federal health care plan, it stood in support of SB 200.

“NFIB opposed the federal health care 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.”

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, opened the debate by acknowledging derisive emails from detractors of the exchange bill.

“They see SB 200 as the first substantial piece of Colorado State policy that is aimed toward implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Lundberg said.

Stephens took those concerns to heart earlier in the session, calling for an amendment to her own bill that would have stopped the exchange from going into effect until after Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a waiver from the national health care program.

The bill will now head over to the House where Republicans will have the chance to add their amendments.

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