Election Ballot 2016: Amendment 69, Universal Health Care in Colorado

tom mier

“It’s a new tax, but you don’t have to pay your health insurance premium.”

Colorado Cares Initiative 69 would amend Colorado’s state constitution to establish and fund a state healthcare payment system to provide healthcare for all individuals whose primary residence is Colorado.  T.R. Reid who is chair of the Colorado Foundation for Universal Healthcare, the citizen-led campaign to provide healthcare for every Coloradan, spoke at the First Universalist Church of Denver.  He is author of the book The Healing of America published in 2009 and is retired from reporting for the Washington Post where he covered Congress and four presidential campaigns.  He has provided commentary for National Public Radio and produced a Public Broadcasting Service documentary, Sick in America.

Reid said that according to the National Academy of Sciences, 360 people die in Colorado every year of treatable diseases because they couldn’t see a doctor, couldn’t get to a doctor, or had to wait until they could get to an emergency room when it was too late.

He added that emergency room service charges for those with no insurance are passed on to the state (uncompensated care) and the cost to taxpayers last year-just from one healthcare provider,Denver Health-was $400 million.

In 2014 Colorado State Senator Irene Aguilar sponsored a bill, Create Colorado Care, a cooperative plan to cover all Coloradans, but Reid said that insurance company lobbyists “came in and crushed it.  It didn’t even get a hearing.”

A grassroots effort of people on the Front Range led to a citizen’s ballot initiative that needed 98,460 signatures.  The group that started with no money, volunteers, and no formal organization gathered 158,000 signatures.

Reid said that concerns over the 360,000 people in Colorado who have no insurance was an initial driving factor behind the push for a state universal healthcare system.  Under the amendment which Colorado voters will see on November’s ballot, every resident of Colorado would be automatically covered with no premiums, no deductibles, and no co-pays except for some specialized procedures.  Coverage would extend to dental care, mental health care, and long-term care.

The bill to the Colorado taxpayer would be $38 billion.  Reid says that $18 billion would come from the federal medicaid program that the state already receives, and subsidy money from Obamacare.  The rest would be raised through a payroll tax of 3.3% to the worker and 6.7% to the employer that would total $25 billion and would bring the total to 38 billion.  To the critics who say that Coloradans have not approved a tax hike in decades, Reid says that when voters understand that last year Coloradans spent 43 billion on healthcare, 30 billion of which was just for insurance premiums (not counting co-pays and deductibles), that voters will see the savings to them for better insurance than they may be getting now, “Colorado will provide better insurance for cheaper.”

Current premiums to private insurance companies are projected to increase by an average 17% next January after health insurance companies proposed increases to the state health commissioner.

Private insurance corporations that are located out of state are fighting the initiative which Reid says has amounted to $3 million so far and will probably be closer to $5 million.  What irks him, he says, is that the money essentially comes from Coloradans to fight their own initiative, “So they’re taking our money, sending it back here to convince us to preserve their monopoly so they can raise our premiums 17% next year.  Last time they raised their premiums 10 times the rate of inflation.”

The presentation was met with high approval judging from the applause except for one critic who said that she lived in Great Britain which has universal healthcare and that she received poor care there in the 1990’s.  Reid said that he lived in Great Britain more recently, and that the healthcare his family received there was comparable to what he now receives in the US.  He defended that Colorado Care would offer a broader choice in terms of allowing the patient to choose a doctor in comparison to the options that Coloradans currently have in a narrow network, and a narrowing of the coverage.

To the critics who say that voters would never approve a new tax in the billions and that the proposal would involve more money than the McDonald’s or Nike corporations, he argues that healthcare is worth more than hamburgers to Coloradans.  But the push back by the industry is not unexpected.  Reid said that Colorado’s initiative is not a particular threat to the industry, but that the rest of the country that might follow would be.  The state of Minnesota invited him to bring the details to officials there for future consideration.  If the rest of the country follows Colorado’s example, the threat to the for-profit industry would be enormous since healthcare in this country is 16% of the GDP.

A response from an audience member though, said that all he has to do is look at private insurance companies who pay their CEOs in the tens of millions and that he would rather his money go to a coop owned by the people.

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