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economic justice | health

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."
Colorado Health Insurance Pool Not a Solution 26.Feb.2004 10:23


State Health Insurance pools do nothing to help the uninsured and the poor. They merely provide VERY expensive premiums to those who are already insured and are turned down for private coverage because of age or ailment. Individual premiums last year on Oregon Medical Insurance Pool were more than $5,000 which did not include deductibles, copays, vision or dental, which could easily double the amount of expenses. $10K for simple health care expenses is just plain out of reach for most individuals. I'd be surprised if the Colorado plan is more affordable. Universal Health Care is the solution.

Colorado pool would be different from OMIP 26.Feb.2004 13:27

Lynn Porter

Not the same thing. OMIP is Oregon's high risk medical insurance pool for people with preexisting conditions. Insurance companies won't sell individual insurance policies to them unless the state makes them -- at a high premium. It only covers a small part of Oregon's population. It's an expensive last resort.

The Colorado pool would be much broader. The larger the pool the lower the premiums, at least theoretically. You're spreading the risk around, which is what insurance is supposed to do. Including a lot of low risk people brings down the premiums. Insurance companies have been doing the opposite, cherry picking healthy customers and trying to exclude the rest. Also they have very high administrative costs, as compared to government programs like Medicare -- not surprising since they make a profit and pay high saleries to CEOs.

I would much prefer a statewide single payer, universal health care program also, but Oregon voters already turned that down in November 2002 as Measure 23, by a wide margin. The subsequent defeat of Measures 28 and 30 makes it clear that Oregonians are unlikely to approve any tax increase, however small, for any purpose. So we need to find some other way of making medical insurance more affordable for more people.

I don't know if an insurance pool run by state government would do it, but it's worth thinking about. Would probably depend on how it's set up. I can see it helping the self-employed and people who have enough income that they can pay some kind of reasonable premium. I'm not sure if it could help those of us with very low incomes.

If you're interested in discussing this, Health Care for All - Oregon, the sponsor of Measure 23, has an email list you can subscribe to.  http://www.hcao.org

Measure 30 Defeat No indicator that Oregonians Diss Healthcare for All 26.Feb.2004 20:07


Lynn: It is a joy to find people who share an interst in the life and death matter of affordable healthcare. But I must take issue with your assumption that the defeat of Measures 23, 28 and 30 provided a "clear" indicator that Oregonians do not want healthcare for all. By making such a statement, you are promulgating the flawed liberal mythology that the only means to finance social services is by squeezing more from the already overburdened residents. Au contrair. Residents may, in fact, have voted against Measure 30 because they are unable to shoulder additional financial burden in a state that can find funds to send the Governor abroad on useless publicity-seeking jaunts, buy the latest voodoo technology for state offices, give tax cuts to Nike and Intel, and dump tens of millions into a prestigious Oregon Health Sciences University that refuses to open its doors to the State's needy. I'll bet you did not hear one voter say, "Gee, I sure don't want my neighbor to have health care." And how about our reps in Washington? None of them have taken up the torch of affordable healthcare on our behalf. In fact "liberal" Wyden sold us down the stream without a prescription when he ENDORSED Bush's Fraudulant Medicare Bill in December. ("Duh, maybe I shoulda let the poor schmucks get their drugs from foreign countries...") Let's not play into the hands of the blackmailing Republican legislators who dictate that we fork more money over, or become an inhumane state where old folks will just hafta die if they cant afford a trip to the doc and drugstore. We need to contact our state and national reps and demand they pay attention to The Peoples' priorities for our tax dollars.