Health insurance exchange bill heads to governor

A bill to create health insurance exchanges in Colorado passed out of the Senate today, becoming one of the few bills to make it through the fires of Tea Party and other conservative groups this year. While Republicans largely voted against the bill, it passed with no discussion in the Democratically controlled Senate and is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Westminster, and House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, survived heavy opposition from “conservative grassroots organizations” and an attempt to add a poison pill amendment by Stephens on its way to final passage.

The bill, if signed, will create a pseudo-governmental entity that will be responsible for the creation and administration of a Colorado health care exchange program.

Stephens, since recommending an amendment offered by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, that would have required the governor to apply for a waiver from the federal Affordable Care Act, has worked heavily with the business community to push for the bill’s passage.

Colorado small businesses, chambers of commerce and national organizations, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses which is involved in the lawsuit against the federal government’s health care law, all testified ardently for the bill’s passage. They said they want to have the same type of purchasing power offered to larger companies in order to manage costs.

The bill underwent a firestorm of misrepresentation driven by blogs and groups concerned that Colorado health insurance exchanges are an extension of “Obamacare.” Those groups eventually labeled SB 200 as “Amycare” in an attempt to draw the comparison between the federal and state legislation.

While the bill, in part, saw its development sped as a means of avoiding a compulsory national model mandated to take effect by 2013 by the Affordable Health Care Act, the idea itself was generated by a commission established by former Gov. Bill Owens.

Other legislators also felt the heat of special interest groups misrepresenting the intent of bills in the House this year. One example was a fetal homicide bill carried and eventually pulled by Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. That bill, which would have imposed criminal penalties on individuals who unlawfully terminated a pregnancy, met considerable distortions, leading to what some thought might be a public debate on abortion, that ultimately caused the bill’s demise. Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, stated at the time that the fires had grown too hot for the bill to continue to a vote.

“You have, in my mind, what is a good bill,” Gardner said at the time. “…But let me say there has never been a bill that has seen this level of disinformation and misinformation.”

The passage of SB 200 out of the House, where 20 of 33 Republicans voted in its favor, may represent a move away from the Tea Party’s influence as national polls show increasingly unfavorable opinions of the group.

Tea Party and “grassroots conservative” activists said Wednesday that they would look at influencing Republican primaries and might begin working on recall efforts of Republicans who voted in favor of the bill.

While Stephens said during a press meeting Wednesday that she did not want to turn the bill into a Tea Party debate, she said that she encourages political involvement and conversation. She said she would have been remiss in her job to govern if she did not work to pass SB 200.

The health insurance exchange bill, after being signed by both the Senate president and House speaker, will go to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.

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