SB 200, Colorado’s health insurance exchange bill, christened “Amycare” after House sponsor Amy Stephens by its detractors, was rushed through committee in a two-day sprint that ended with it exiting the house on a 44-21 vote. The bill’s passage came under threats of recalls for Republicans voting for the bill.
House Majority Leader Stephens, R-Monument, spent Tuesday rallying support for the legislation through a morning press conference that hosted business people from around the state roundly in favor of what they termed a free-market solution to Colorado’s health care concerns.
After the press conference, the bill moved quickly, first being heard in committee where disparate groups ranging from progressive organizations to insurance agencies to small business groups testified again in favor of the bill which then made its way into the House where it eventually passed with an amendment. The amendment essentially states that the bill is needed to avoid federal government intrusion on state’s rights.
“I think this is landmark for Colorado and maybe that is why this evokes so much emotion. But I think it is worth it,” Stephens said during her press meeting. “I would be wrong as a leader not to do something proactively and govern well and I believe this has that.”
Tea Party members, with Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, standing next to them, hosted a short anti-health insurance exchange press conference in front of the committee doors. There they said again that the bill was simply an extension of “Obamacare” and said that until medical care and the industry are deregulated, prices will continue to skyrocket.
Robert Rowland, publisher of The Patriot Today, said legislators who voted for the bill would face troubles at the primary polls from Tea Party and conservative followers and could face a “grassroots” recall effort. “We will be working on the primary and in some cases people are talking about a recall.”
“The longer I looked the more I realized [this bill] was simply one more layer of bureaucracy in concert with what the Congress passed last year that has already been declared unconstitutional,” Lundberg said. “Those who support this bill are going to have to answer to their constituents even as those who vote against it will have to answer to theirs.”
Stephens said that while she welcomed the debate and did not see this as a rift between Tea Party activists and Republicans, she said that it was a bill that was necessary for Colorado.
“I believe that there are people who have misunderstood and misrepresented the bill to be sure,”Stephens said. “There are some people who are just not going to go there or get it… What I do think is detrimental to this debate is to deny Colorado the opportunity to control its destiny and that we put our liberties and our fortunes (on the line) by sitting on our hands and waiting for a court decision–I don’t think so.”
During the press conference, Stephens said that she differed with the Tea Party and many others who see this as an extension of the national Affordable Care Act. Instead she and others noted that the concept of the bill came out of a bipartisan commission created in the last year of the Owens administration. She said that while it was true that if Colorado did not act it would be forced to join a D.C. devised program, that was all the more reason to ensure that Colorado use a Colorado specific model to provide Coloradans with a means to access health care.
The health exchange bill, also sponsored by Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, if enacted would set up a bipartisan board tasked with putting together the exact components of the exchange and providing oversight. According to the Senate Majority Office, more than 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.
“The issue before us is will Colorado determine Colorado’s destiny?” Stephens said. “We have to have an exchange by 2013 and fully up and running by 2014. The answer is to proceed and determine what we are going to do. Every year we linger we have less and less choice in the matter. To do nothing is to risk too much.”