Single-payer health insurance takes small step on legislative ladder

By Richard Haugh
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

An ambitious bill to create a system to provide health care coverage for all Coloradans took a step forward last Wednesday.

Following a nearly seven-hour hearing on March 18, the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee approved House Bill 1273, sponsored by Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, on a 5-4 vote. The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Showing the ideological divide on the measure in the committee — and in the General Assembly overall — five Democrats voted in favor and four Republicans voted against the bill. Doctors and consumer advocacy groups testified in favor of the bill, while the Colorado Hospital Association and business groups testified against it.

The administration of Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, also opposes the bill.

Kefalas’ legislation would create a 23-member Colorado Health Care Authority to study how a single-payer system of health care delivery could be funded and administered separate from state government and not subject to administrative control by the state.

The health care authority would seek gifts, grants and donations to fund its study. If it can’t find funds by July 1, 2011, the plan would die. With funding — and approval from the Legislature — the authority would create the Colorado Health Care System and seek the federal and state waivers, exemptions and agreements needed to launch the program.

Critics of Kefalas’ bill pointed out that a blue ribbon commission (dubbed the 208 Commission after its enabling legislation) created by Ritter in 2007 examined the idea of covering all Coloradans with health insurance administered by a single payer and rejected the concept.

Kefalas said the health care authority created by his bill is “taking the work of the 208 Commission to the next level.” He also disputed charges that his system would lead to the rationing of health care.

“If you have a great health insurance plan, you’ll get all the care you want,” Kefalas said at the hearing. “If you happen to be one of the 800,000 people in Colorado who doesn’t have access to health insurance, there’s already rationing.”

The bill is tentatively scheduled to be heard by the House Appropriations Committee on April 3.

Rick@coloradostatesman.com