Single-payer health care bill clears committee

Filed under: Health Care,Print | Tags:,

A bill that could lead to universal health care has cleared its first hurdle in the Colorado Senate, but it has received scant support from local and state health care groups.

Senate Bill 168, sponsored by Sen. Irene Aguilar, a Denver Democrat, seeks to create the Colorado Health Care Authority, a group appointed by the General Assembly that would design and build a universal health care system paid for from a single funding source.

Voters would get a chance to approve or reject the plan in 2013.

“When reading it, it seems like this is not only universal care, but a single payer system,” said John Suits, associate administrator for government affairs at Memorial Health System. “We are not in favor of single payer, so we’re keeping a very close eye on the progress of this bill.”

The bill leaves many unanswered questions, he said. How to fund a single-payer system is only one of them.

Memorial is concerned, too, that the cooperative will address too many measures already in place under the Affordable Care Act.

“This will both duplicate and compete with health care reform law,” he said. “We’re wondering whether we really need it. We want to see how federal laws play out first.”

Mark Reese of the Colorado Association of Health Plans, says creating the cooperative will add 12 percent to payroll taxes.

“And a single payer system will cost about 20,000 jobs and cost the state about $200 million in taxes for premiums,” he said. “That’s the third-largest source for the general fund, behind income tax and sales taxes.”

Health exchanges, created in the Affordable Care Act, have both bipartisan support and are better for the state’s economy, he said.

Federal law creates health care exchanges, one-stop shopping for health care insurance. Companies approved by the federal government can use the exchanges for their insurance plans and consumers can get help preparing those plans.

Reese said that the association supports exchanges, as do many other business groups. The bill creating the exchanges is something he is looking for in the next legislative session.

But the bill’s sponsor believes that more than 250,000 people in Colorado would be without insurance in 2019, even after the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented.

Under the cooperative, insurance costs would decrease because it would essentially eliminate private insurance and offer incentives to providers to keep costs down.

Some health care advocates are stopping short of endorsing the bill. The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative is also tracking Senate Bill 168, but isn’t endorsing it.

“We’ve never been a single-payer supporter,” said executive director DeDe DePercin. “So we’re not fully backing this bill. We’ve only agreed to track it.”

The bill is too vague, DePercin said, echoing many of Suits’ concerns.

But Health Care for All Coloradans, an advocacy agency that is set up to push for a single-payer, universal care system, believes the bill fills the holes left by the federal overhaul.

“This bill doesn’t actually do anything except create a way to look at options,” said Nate Wilkes, a board member for the group. “It doesn’t put anything in place, and voters get a chance to approve the final recommendations.”

SB168 only sets up a board to examine the universal care, single-payer plan to determine if it’s feasible, he said.

If it is feasible, reducing the role insurance companies play in Colorado will lower business health care costs and create more provider jobs, he said .

Wilkes said his group estimates that the state would gain between 28,000 and 68,000 new jobs if the cooperative is approved.

Senate Bill 168 does not rely on taxpayer dollars, Wilkes said. The costs of setting up the study will be funded by grants and donations. He believes the time has come to examine the benefits of a universal care system that evens the playing field for everyone in the state.

“Even under (federal) reform, some people won’t have access to care,” he said. “We need to examine that need.”

The bill is currently being considered by the full Senate. Its future in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is unknown.

“We think it has a good chance of passing the Senate,” Wilkes said. “Who knows what the House will do? There’s always a chance.”

SB 168

Seeks to create the Colorado Health Care Authority that would design a cooperative that would serve as the benefits administrator for health care services.

The cooperative must include:

Health care services that will be part of the cooperative

Payment systems

Regulation and evaluation

Methods for coordinating alternate insurance plans

Benefit design provider rates and reimbursement

Maintain a marketplace with health care choices