As Health Benefit Exchange meetings kick off, some Republicans still question costs, need

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

Monday marked the first day of meetings to implement the new Colorado Health Benefit Exchange – one of the most controversial bills to make it through both chambers of the State Legislature last session.

State Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, convened the first meeting of the Legislative Health Benefit Exchange Implementation Review Committee in the basement of the state capitol, first holding a media availability on the process. Boyd and House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, collaborated on SB 200 last session to “establish a voluntary, competitive insurance marketplace.”

The exchange will be governed by an independent board of directors, and the committee is designed to assist the board in implementing the program, which was hailed as a bipartisan victory in a highly contentious legislative environment last session.

“I have never seen such a broad-based coalition of support for a piece of health care legislation,” Boyd said when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law in June. “I appreciate how business groups, consumer advocates, insurers and health care providers came together to support this uniquely Colorado solution to help individuals and small businesses purchase health coverage.”

But it’s clear that Republicans, many of whom voted against the bill, still see it as a hedge against the evils of the federal Affordable Health Care Act, which they derisively refer to as “Obamacare.”

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, told a gathering of Republicans in Montrose last week that she considers the exchange just another unfunded federal mandate, according to the Telluride Watch newspaper.

“The cost of the exchange will be huge,” said Roberts, a reluctant Republican representative serving on the exchange committee, “and within the Republicans and at the state level there is some difference of opinion. It’s like the EPA. You do your own or let the feds come in.”

Roberts told the gathering she’s anxious for an appellate court ruling on challenges by 26 states, including Colorado, to the Affordable Health Care Act, or, in her words, “Obamacare.”

“I’m glad I can say that without people throwing things,” she said. “The president does not want [the lawsuit)] resolved before 2012. I think it’s critically important to get the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve this.”

Roberts added she resents any federal meddling, from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and others, in how Colorado sets up its exchange.

“I want to write back and say, ‘We did this so the state of Colorado could create its own exchange, so back off,” she said.

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