Colorado group has long advocated universal care

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Massachusetts might have passed the first law, but a nonprofit group in Colorado has been working on universal insurance coverage for five years.
The Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved led a series of town hall meetings around the state in 2001 in attempt to gauge the support for universal health insurance. As a result, the group created a list of recommendations – and is working on the process.
“It feels like one of those three-legged races,” said Molly Markert, executive director of the association. “You’re never sure which foot is going to touch the ground.”
Some of the coalition’s plans – such as a discount prescription drug program – are being considered by the state legislature.
“We’re working slowly to get the recommendations implemented,” she said. “It takes time to think through the process and get it started. Some of the ideas – voluntary universal health insurance, for one – are extremely difficult.”
Still, Markert can point to some successes. Senate Bill 35, for example, has been referred to a health care task force. The bill, which the coalition supports, would make insurance more affordable. The idea is to provide premium subsidies to people enrolled in qualified health insurance plans.
Markert said the coalition has seen less resistance to health care legislation in recent years, thanks to escalating insurance costs.
“We have had some public progress in making people more aware,” she said. “In a way, the recommendations were before their time – people now are more aware of their own personal responsibility in their health care: they drink less, they quit smoking and they exercise. None of that was really discussed back in 2001 when we did the study.”
The group’s “wish list” of recommendations includes another idea that could soon become reality: prescription drug assistance. Senate Bill 1 creates a prescription drug program, and has passed the appropriations committee, Markert said.
“We’re moving forward,” she said. “But it’s wobbly progress.”
For Markert, the Massachusetts law opens the way for more states to follow. The Colorado Coalition has invited Massachusetts officials who helped craft the law to a conference in September.
“We’ve invited people from several other states who have addressed the health care issues: Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts,” she said. “We’re going to be able to ask them how the law is implemented, roadblocks, all that information that we need to go forward.”
Markert, like others in the health care profession, will be watching how Massachusetts implements the legislation. The law has “something for everyone to hate,” she said.
“It doesn’t favor anyone really,” she said. “It’s very loosely crafted, an ‘alliance of enemies’ who came together to solve a problem. But it’s important because it proves that we don’t have to wait for the federal government. States can step up and fill that gap that needs to be filled.”
While Massachusetts begins implementing the law, the coalition is waiting for some of its most ambitious goals to become reality. A voluntary universal health plan, for example, has proved elusive.
Universal health insurance would be difficult to pay for in Colorado, according to the study.
“In order for Colorado to establish a mandatory, single-payer system, it would either have to raise taxes as much as 300 percent, or mandate that business and individuals contribute to coverage for all,” the study said. “While it is possible that these new costs might be substantially – if not entirely offset – by savings from current expenditures for health care, neither a massive tax increase, nor an employer or individual mandate appears to be politically viable at this time.”
Markert said the cost of a single-payer program is one reason the coalition decided to advocate for a voluntary universal system. That plan is gaining ground in the legislature – slowly, she said.
“Well, that definitely isn’t going to happen this year,” Markert said. “But we do have some progress. Senate Bill 208 pulls together segments of providers, the community and the insurance industry to come up with four or five plans for comprehensive insurance. They’re going to work together, come up with the cost, and determine by January of 2007 which is most able to be implemented.”
While the bill hasn’t yet passed the Senate, Markert believes it is a key step toward providing more health insurance to more Colorado residents.
“It’s like that three-legged race,” she said. “We’re working on it, and health care costs are definitely on everyone’s mind. We’re making slow progress.”