Health exchange bill moves a step closer to passage

The health benefit exchange bill overcame objections by the Tea Party and  passed the Colorado House of Representatives today.

The bill, which creates a clearing house for small businesses and individuals to compare insurance rates and purchase plans, came under fire when grassroots conservatives declared it part of federal health care reform.

The bill passed the Senate easily, after two amendments were defeated that were designed to exempt the state from federal health care reform legislation. Gov. John Hickenlooper had said he would veto any bill with those amendments.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, a Republican from Monument and the bill’s sponsor, took the measure to the floor immediately after it passed the House Health and Environment Committee. It passed the House and must go back to the Senate to make reconcile different language in the bill. It will go to the governor to be signed into law by the end of the week.

“It’s a done deal,” said De De DePercin, executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, one of the driving forces behind the bill.

Stephens came under fire from Tea Party representatives for her support of the bill, angry about what they consider a move to implement a major part of the federal health care legislation. However, business leaders around the state testified in favor of the bill, saying it could drive health insurance costs down.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses, one of the opponents of the federal health care reform law that is challenging it in court, supports the health care exchanges and was heavily involved in drafting the bill.

The Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Denver Chamber, also supports the bill.

The supporters argue that creating the competitive exchanges gives a Colorado-specific solution to the problem of ever-rising health insurance premiums. They say it does not signal the state’s support of the federal law. Colorado is part of 24 states that have sued the federal government to have the law overturned.

To read previous CSBJ coverage of health exchanges, click here.