Health care choice proponents submit ballot petitions

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

On August 1, Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute turned in nearly 131,000 signatures to qualify a ballot initiative for the November election that would take Colorado out of the federal government’s mandated health insurance requirement.

The “Right to Health Care Choice” ballot initiative would amend the state constitution to say that no statute or policy adopted or enforced by the state shall require someone to participate in any public or private health insurance plan, health care coverage or health benefit plan.

The Secretary of State has 30 days to certify the results, but spokesman Rich Coolidge said they expect the results before that, possibly as soon as two weeks. While Caldara turned in 130,000 signatures, only 76,000 are required to get a measure on the ballot.

The ballot initiative also “would constitutionally protect fee-for-service health care by ensuring Coloradans the right to choose to pay out of pocket for health care services and products,” according to a statement issued August 1 by Caldara. “I am confident we will have our day in front of voters this November and we will indeed make Colorado a sanctuary state for quality health care,” he said.

The ballot measure would block Colorado from adopting federal legislation passed earlier this year to require all U.S. citizens to get health insurance coverage. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, and most of its provisions won’t go into effect until 2013. The law is designed to provide health insurance coverage to more than 48 million Americans who currently are uninsured. In addition, according to the Obama administration, the law would provide for tax credits to 29 million Americans to help pay for health insurance, whether it is because of income or because they do not get it through employment. Employers who choose to offer employees health insurance could receive tax cuts of up to 35 percent of premiums in 2013 and up to 50 percent in 2014.

The law also prohibits health insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

Caldara said the ballot measure would put health care choice into the state constitution’s bill of rights. “You cannot be forced into a public or private plan against your will,” he explained, and the state would not be able to ban direct payments for health care services. Caldara said that in Canada, it is illegal to pay a doctor directly for his or her services, and in Massachusetts, the state directs its citizens to buy a private product to state specifications.

“I see this as pro health care,” Caldara said. “It’s to make sure we have as many choices as possible.”

The effort to get “Right to Get Health Care Choice” onto the ballot took more than just collecting petition signatures — it also needed a victory in U.S. District Court in Denver regarding how those who collect signatures are paid. “We had legal hurdles galore” to get to the petition process, Caldara said this week.

At issue is House Bill 09-1326, which banned the practice of hiring people to gather petition signatures and paying them on a per-signature basis. Caldara told The Colorado Statesman that paying signature collectors by the hour or on salary would double or triple the cost of collecting petitions, and would remove incentives for gathering signatures.

On June 11, U.S. District Court Judge Phillip Brimmer placed a temporary injunction on the law, stating that the purpose of HB 1326 was to “raise the cost per signature for a ballot petition campaign by at least 6 percent to 18 percent and potentially as much as a dollar per signature,” and that paying per signature was no more likely to result in fraud or invalid signatures than paying by the hour.

While Brimmer granted the temporary injunction, Caldara pointed out that the case is still pending in the U.S. District Court.

A coalition of physicians, hospitals, consumer advocates, and religious organizations groups are organizing opposition to the ballot measure, according to an announcement made the day before the petitions were turned in.

According to Colorado Deserves Better, the measure “would isolate Colorado from health care costs savings by shrinking the risk pool in Colorado.” In a statement issued July 30, Edie Sonn of the Colorado Medical Society noted that “once you cut through the complicated language, it becomes apparent that this amendment will lead to higher health care costs for individuals and businesses, drawn out expensive lawsuits, and decreased quality of care.”

Colorado remains a party to a federal lawsuit, filed by 13 state attorneys general in U.S. District Court in Northern Florida that also seeks to challenge the federal law. In March, Attorney General John Suthers announced he would join in the federal lawsuit that seeks to prevent implementation of the law’s requirement that individuals purchase health insurance, as well as challenging the constitutionality of the penalties that would be assessed to those who disregard the law and do not qualify for exemptions because of income or other allowable reasons.

And on Tuesday, voters in Missouri approved a ballot measure to reject the law’s provisions regarding penalties and requiring individuals to purchase health insurance. According to Politics Daily, the legislatures in five states have already passed laws blocking their participation in the federal law.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com