Colorado considers statewide nonprofit medical insurance program
Program would be voluntary, create large risk pool, bring down premiums.
Rocky Mountain News
Insurance-pool bill goes before panel
By Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News
February 16, 2004
Democratic lawmakers are looking for one Republican vote today to advance their plan to create a nonprofit statewide health insurance program.
The program would put willing individuals, families and companies into a single insurance pool, diluting the risk and bringing comprehensive coverage to hundreds of thousands who can't afford it now, said the bill's author, Rep. Lois Tochtrop, D-Lakewood.
The bill would give a tax credit for half the money a person or family spends on the plan, not to exceed $500, and only in years when there is a budget surplus.
Tochtrop's measure has 27 of the 28 Democrats in the House as co-sponsors, and all five of the Democrats on the Health, Education, Welfare and Institutions Committee are behind it. There are six GOP members on that committee, so she needs one Republican vote of support for it to survive today's panel hearing.
In her scramble for GOP support, Tochtrop argues that her bill isn't a single-payer, universal-coverage plan, which is anathema to Republicans. A seven-member commission would set premiums, but private insurers would compete for the business, she said. No person or employer will be forced to join the plan or abandon their current plan, she added.
It's needed because Colorado and the nation are in crisis over affordable health care, she said. "Affordability of insurance used to impact the working poor. Now, it's moved up to the middle class."
Employers big and small are finding it increasingly difficult to afford health benefits, she said, and more employees are losing their coverage weekly.
Recent plans to offer coverage to Coloradans based on the size of their companies or the area where they live attracted little interest from insurers, who couldn't find a way to make money by participating.
The statewide pool, open to businesses and individuals regardless of age or medical condition, is the best chance to offer preventive as well as catastrophic care at a reasonable price, Tochtrop said. Under the plan, members would have co-pays for office visits and prescriptions.
The program would be an alternative to last year's GOP-backed "mandate-lite" law that reduced the number of services insurers must provide, allowing them to offer high-deductible, catastrophic care at low prices.
Tochtrop said that by pulling more people under the comprehensive-coverage umbrella, there will be less cost-shifting, and Coloradans won't see the yearly double-digit jumps in premiums.
People who are uninsured or who have only catastrophic care often put off office visits, then show up in the emergency room because they don't have a regular doctor, she said. They rarely can pay the $600 an hour charged in emergency rooms, she added, so hospitals shift that cost to the insured - and premiums rise each year.
Rep. Lauri Clapp, R-Arapahoe County and chairwoman of the HEWI Committee, said she planned to read Tochtrop's bill thoroughly. Clapp said she strongly favors the "mandate-lite" law and medical savings accounts "to get young people into the pool."
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