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Universal health care aim of Colorado proposal

Ed Sealover
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” A plan to lay the groundwork for a Canadian-style, single-payer universal health care system in Colorado has been introduced by a group of Democrats.

House Bill 1273, sponsored by Fort Collins Rep. John Kefalas and co-sponsored by 18 legislators, would create a privately funded commission to study how a government-funded health care system could work. The goal is to have a single-payer bill to the General Assembly in 2011, he said.

The idea, once considered a fringe proposal, has picked up support as the number of uninsured Coloradans has jumped to more than 800,000. But few ideas stir as much animosity among free-market supporters.

Kefalas’ plan is likely to get some Democratic resistance, too. House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, replaced the Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman last year after saying he wanted the health-care discussion to include several options ” not just universal. And Carroll sent the bill to the Business Affairs and Labor Committee rather than to HHS.

Still, Kefalas is pushing ahead, saying he wants to turn the conversation from reducing the ranks of the uninsured to eliminating them.

“There’s a lot of interest, support, enthusiasm. But I want to make sure we do this right, because it’s a project of great magnitude,” he said. “Across the spectrum, there’s agreement that the current system isn’t working.”

The bill comes after an ad-hoc group of legislators met between sessions to discuss a system in which government covers all health care, eliminating the private health-insurance system. A separate commission determined that while the plan could cost $26 billion ” less than the $30 billion Coloradans now pay in public and private health-care costs ” it was not the best option.

The health-care authority that Kefalas would create would look at how a single-payer program would be financed and what it would take to get the federal Medicaid waivers to operate such a system. Then it would recommend how to transition to the new system, said Irene Aguilar, a doctor at Denver Health’s Westside clinic.

“This is the single-payer building block,” said Aguilar, a bill supporter.

The new study would occur at the same time the state is examining Centennial Care Choices, a program that would allow private insurers to offer more low-cost plans to the uninsured.

Rep. Spencer Swalm, an insurance broker who specializes in employee benefit programs, questioned how the government could improve health care.

He noted that Medicaid, the government program for the low-income, has such low reimbursement rates that many doctors don’t take it and others who do have long waits to see them.

“In a universal program, they’re going to do the same thing,” Swalm said. “They’re going to have low reimbursement rates … There’s a good likelihood you’re not going to get to see the doctor you want to see.”

No date has been scheduled to hear the bill yet.


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