Reformers rally for health care at Capitol

By Richard Haugh
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Health care reform advocates staged a morning of face time with legislators on Monday, culminating in a rally on the West Steps of the Capitol.

Their goal: Persuade legislators to adopt significant health care reform during this year’s session.

Jim Helgoth of Business Health Forum describes the burdens of running a business and the costs of employee health insurance.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, exhorted a crowd of about 200 at the Health Care Day of Action to keep the pressure on lawmakers to bring about reform. The Legislature has a commitment to reform the system, he said, especially in light of a struggling economy that continues to add to the rolls of the uninsured.

“This is not something we need to do because it can save money,” Carroll said. “That’s an important part of it, but we need reform because it’s the moral thing to do — the right thing to do.”

Carroll noted that several pieces of health-care-related legislation have been introduced this year, including House Bill 1293, the so-called provider fee bill.

HB 1293, the Health Care Affordability Act, is sponsored by Reps. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, and Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge. It would assess a fee on hospitals and use the new revenue to draw down matching federal Medicaid dollars. Backers estimate it would bring in $1.2 billion of new funds. The money would be used to expand eligibility for Medicaid and the state’s child health plan and to reduce the cost of uncompensated care by increasing reimbursement to hospitals that treat Medicaid patients and patients from the Colorado Indigent Care Program.

“This bill will increase provider reimbursement and give them an incentive to take care of our indigent and our most vulnerable people,” Carroll said.

House Speaker Terrance Carroll addresses the Health Care Day of Action audience.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship and is supported by the Colorado Hospital Association, other health providers, business groups, insurance companies and community advocacy groups.

One of HB 1293’s sponsors, Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told the crowd that health care reform is crucial for the viability of Colorado business and their employees. She said businesses can’t compete as long as they’re burdened with “the albatross of skyrocketing health care costs.”

“This is a moral issue as well as an economic issue,” she said. “We are subsidizing the failures of our current health care system by doing nothing.”

Other bills in the sights of health care reformers are House Bill 1273, sponsored by Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, and Senate Bill 228, sponsored by Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.

HB 1273, the Colorado Guaranteed Health Care Act, would create a so-called single payer health care system in Colorado, with a nongovernment health care authority that would administer and pay for health care delivery. The bill is scheduled for its first hearing later this month.

SB 228 would eliminate the Arveschoug-Bird Provision, which caps growth of the state’s general fund at 6 percent per year and allocates money above that to transportation and construction projects. Critics of the 6 percent limit say legislators should be able to allocate general fund revenue to areas where it’s most needed, including health care funding.

Eric and Mark Stahlman are inteviewed by 850 KOA following the rally. The 16 year old twins, who have cerebral palsy, are watched by their mother Kelly, VP of Colorado Alliance for Health and Independence.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Not all were pleased with the rally. Some members of Healthcare for All Colorado said they were told they couldn’t display banners or cards supporting Kefalas’ single-payer bill. The group worked closely with Kefalas in crafting HB 1273.

Irene Aguilar, a doctor who heads Healthcare for All Colorado, said her group was instructed not to promote single-payer legislation at the rally because “it’s not politically viable.”

Before the event, Kefalas said he was unaware that discussion of HB 1273 was being discouraged.

“I just know that as a legislator, regardless of 1273, I received an invitation to participate, to engage with folks,” he said. “I assumed I would say a few words about the bill.”

Kefalas didn’t talk at the rally on the Capitol steps, nor did he speak on HB 1273 at a lunch following the rally, although he said he had expected to. Organizers at the lunch said no politicians were scheduled to speak to the group as a whole, but that they would have individual discussions with smaller groups during lunch.

The rally on the Capitol steps capped a morning of citizen lobbying, which started early with a meeting in the Old Supreme Court Chambers, where participants were schooled in how to talk to lawmakers. Following the rally, participants and a handful of legislators gathered at the nearby Central Presbyterian Church for lunch.

Sponsors of the Health Care Day of Action included labor unions, citizen action groups, faith-based organizations and disability group advocates.

Rick@coloradostatesman.com